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Doctors say health care is blind to color but not to health insurance

Most doctors believe health insurance coverage — rather than race, income, gender, or sexual orientation — determines the type of care a patient receives, according to a 2001 Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey.

A majority, or 72 percent of the 2,608 doctors polled for KFF's 2001 "National Survey of Physicians," say they agree that the health care system in the United States treats people unfairly "very often" or "somewhat often" based on whether they have health insurance coverage. This majority said this no matter whether the doctors answering the questions were Asian, black, Latino, or white.

In contrast, most doctors say the health care system "rarely" or "never" treats people unfairly based on how much money they have (52 percent), how well they speak English (55 percent), how well educated they are (60 percent), their race or ethnicity (69 percent), whether they are physically disabled (76 percent), their sexual orientation (75 percent), or their gender (84 percent).

However, the survey did find the doctors' race or ethnicity played a significant part in whether they believe a patient's race or ethnicity plays a role in how they receive medical treatment. Seventy-seven percent of black and 52 percent of Latino doctors say unfair treatment based on race or ethnicity happens at least somewhat often, compared with 33 percent of Asian and only 25 percent of white doctors.

 

Physicians on disparities in the health care system

 

How often do you think our health care system
treats people unfairly based on . . .
  Very often Somewhat often Rarely Never
Insurance 31
percent
41
percent
24
percent
3
percent
Income 14
percent
33
percent
42
percent
10
percent
English fluency 9
percent
34
percent
44
percent
11
percent
Education 8
percent
31
percent
48
percent
12
percent
Race 6
percent
23
percent
55
percent
14
percent
Sexual orientation 4
percent
19
percent
59
percent
16
percent
Physical disability 3
percent
20
percent
57
percent
19
percent
Gender 2
percent
13
percent
57
percent
27
percent

 

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

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