Last week, KFF released the results of a large survey on racism and discrimination. The survey covers many scenarios and situations, capturing respondents’ general experiences with and the effects of discrimination, including stress, difficulties getting or keeping employment, feeling less safe at home or with the police, and negative interactions in health care settings.
The respondents reported issues in all avenues of life, with women and younger adults somewhat more likely to report discriminatory behavior than men or older adults. In terms of lasting effects, those exposed to discrimination were more likely to report higher levels of worry, stress, loneliness, and depression than their peers. Black and American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) respondents reported particularly high rates of discriminatory behavior, and for Black respondents with darker skin tones, the reported discrimination was even more pronounced.
The report dedicates a section to experiences in health care. The majority of respondents had respectful and positive interactions with their health care providers. Sadly, that does not mean there were no reported issues. Compared to white respondents, twice as many AIAN, Hispanic, and Asian survey participants had problems with providers explaining things in a way they could not understand. Black, AIAN, Asian, and Hispanic respondents all reported lower levels of health care providers understanding and respecting their cultural beliefs or involving them in decision-making about their care.
White adults were more likely to say their providers shared their racial and ethnic background, and Hispanic, Black, and Asian adults who did see providers who shared their racial ethnic backgrounds reported more positive provider interactions than those who saw providers of other backgrounds. But most respondents didn’t think having a provider of the same background would improve their care or that provider race or ethnicity makes much difference in their quality of care.
Black and AIAN adults were more likely to report being disrespected or treated unfairly by providers, and over half of Black, AIAN, and Hispanic respondents said “that they prepare for possible insults from a provider or staff or feel they need to be very careful about their appearance to be treated fairly during health care visits.”
As these survey results show, the problem of discrimination deeply affects people in their daily lives and their interactions in health care settings, which is also likely to impact their care experience and well-being. These findings echo an earlier KFF survey of immigrants that also showed widespread unfair treatment in health care. Both surveys add to research showing that disparities in the availability and quality of care persist across a variety of settings, from hospitals to home care.
At Medicare Rights, we urge providers, policymakers, and stakeholders to seek out additional ways to educate those who interact with the public ensure that all people are treated with respect as they navigate specific cultural and societal dynamics.
Sign up to receive Medicare news, policy developments, and other useful updates from the Medicare Rights.