Study reports black workers compensated less for back injuries

December 17th, 2004 by Julie Ferguson

A Saint Louis University study that appears in the December issue of Pain reports that black Americans who suffer work-related back injuries are compensated less for their injuries than white people in similar situations.
“The implications of these differences are sobering. Even though patients have equal access to health care through the worker’s compensation system, there are substantial differences in the treatment costs that they incur,” principal investigator Raymond C. Tait, a professor of psychiatry, said in a prepared statement.
He and his colleagues studied 1,472 lower back injury worker’s compensation cases in Missouri. They found that money spent on medical care for blacks was about a third (an average of $4,000 less) of that spent on whites and that total disability settlements for blacks were about half ($3,000 lower) than the amounts given to whites.”

The study also cites prior research by the Institute of Medicine on racial and ethnic disparities in health care. Congress requested this study in 1999, and the final report which was issued in 2002 found that:
” … a consistent body of research demonstrates significant variation in the rates of medical procedures by race, even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable. This research indicates that U.S. racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive even routine medical procedures and experience a lower quality of health services.
The report says a large body of research underscores the existence of disparities. For example, minorities are less likely to be given appropriate cardiac medications or to undergo bypass surgery, and are less likely to receive kidney dialysis or transplants. By contrast, they are more likely to receive certain less-desirable procedures, such as lower limb amputations for diabetes and other conditions.”

This is quite disturbing stuff indeed. The report suggest the need for more evidence-based medical guidelines to help providers and health plans make sound decisions and to ensure equity of care. It also points to the need for more minority providers.
Thanks to Jordan Barab at Confined Space for pointing us to the recent St. Louis study.