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Race on LI: The Healthcare Gap

Reports of the highest rates of infections and deaths in heavily-immigrant districts like Hempstead and Brentwood expose gaps in healthcare access for Long Islanders of color. It’s a disparity that local experts warn may worsen as Long Island reopens.

Previous posts examined the racial gap in unemployment and poverty, so here’s a look at the health care disparity between the white and Black population on Long Island.

For the past decade the rate of LI’s population that did not have health insurance has steadily declined, in contrast with national trends. In 2018, the share of uninsured Long Islanders in both Nassau and Suffolk dipped below 4%, while that number nationally rose to 8.5% for the first time since the implementation of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The uninsured rate for Blacks, whites and Long Islanders across the board remains relatively low –– the gap in percentage of uninsured Blacks and whites was less than 2% in 2018. This trends alongside national averages, which was 10% for Blacks and 8% for whites in the same year.

Based on 2018 numbers from the Census, the percentage of Black Long Islanders without health care coverage stood at 4.03% while for white Long Islanders the percentage was 3.18%.

Although Blacks make up 9.8% of the total population, they account for 10.12% of uninsured Long Islanders. Whites, however, make up 70.4% of the population but only 61.4% of the uninsured population––well below their share of the population compared to Blacks.

As LI enters its second to last reopening phase this Wednesday, health care experts remain cautious and urge against overlooking the pandemic’s disproportionate, on-going impact on communities of color.

Last month, Black people accounted for 19% of coronavirus deaths in Nassau County (7% higher than their share of the population) and 12% of coronaviru deaths in Suffolk County (nearly 4% higher than their share of the population).

The socioeconomics of minority communities is the centerpiece to the virus’s devastating impact–– for Long Islanders of color, it’s a disadvantage based on zip code rather than genes, said Dr. Patrick O’Shaughnessy, vice president of Catholic Health Services who oversees six Long Island hospitals.

“80% of chronic health issues are attributed to social determinance, including access to primary care practices, parks and healthy food,” O’Shaughnessy said. “What’s happening with COVID mirrors this.”