WASHINGTON - Most benefit managers at big U.S. companies think minority workers fare as well as white workers when it comes to health care services — despite strong evidence to the contrary — according to a survey released Wednesday.
The survey’s sponsor, the Washington Business Group on Health, wants companies to include in their health care options providers that hire minority doctors, speak Spanish and recognize that some minority health concerns rate special attention.
Bad fits between minority patients and providers may be a factor in health care disparities among racial and ethnic groups, according to the health group. Consisting mainly of Fortune 500 companies and large public-sector employers, the group represents the interests of large employers on health care issues.
Among disparities the group cites:
• American Indian, Latina and Asian women are less likely than non-Hispanic white women to be screened for breast and cervical cancer.
• Latino and black men are less likely than non-Hispanic whites to be screened for prostate cancer and, when prostate cancer is diagnosed, more likely to be at a later and riskier stage of the disease.
• Black Americans are two to four times as likely as whites to have strokes.
Even when they have the same health insurance coverage and disease of equal severity:
• Latinos and blacks are less likely than non-Hispanic whites to undergo cardiac catheterization, angioplasty and bypass surgery to treat heart disease.
• Black Americans are less likely than whites to have asthma-related health conditions treated before they require hospitalization.
‘‘Patients in minority communities arrive at doctors late in terms of disease prevention,’’ said Dr. Brian Smedley of the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences. ‘‘The increased costs and premiums impact everyone’s pockets — not to mention the human toll.’’
The Washington Business Group on Health didn’t offer any explanations for the disparities.
The group suggests that minority workers let company benefit managers know when their health care providers don’t speak Spanish, fail to provide translators or make minority patients feel belittled. The counsel comes as millions of employees nationwide prepare to annually re-enlist in or switch health care plans.
One obstacle to better health care for minority workers, the business group’s survey suggests, is often a company benefit administrator.
More than half of 1,505 who responded said they’d never considered whether they were providing services or measures to ensure high-quality health care for racial and ethnic minorities.
• Seven out of 10 said they thought minorities were as likely as whites to get appropriate care for heart disease and cancer — two chronic conditions in which the disparities are well-documented.
• Eight out of 10 said they’d never asked minority workers if the quality of their health care had suffered because of their ethnicity.
• Nonetheless, nearly half said disparities in minority health weren’t a problem for their employees.
The survey, conducted in August and September by Princeton Survey Research Associates, was a random sampling of 7,500 U.S. companies that employ more than 1,000 workers. Four out of five benefit managers who responded were non-Hispanic whites, and three-quarters were women. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Some companies, Texas Instruments of Dallas among them, are treating minority health disparities by offering disease-prevention seminars for high-risk employees.
‘‘If employees are not referred for the appropriate testing at the appropriate time, we will pay more for that,’’ said Lola Chriss, a benefits manager for Texas Instruments.
The Kellogg Co. of Battle Creek, Mich., offers its 25,000 employees bilingual health seminars on diabetes and hypertension, illnesses for which minorities have been deemed at particularly high risk.
For more information about the Washington Business Group on Health’s ‘‘Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities’’ project, visit www.wbgh.com and click on ‘‘Health Disparities project.’’
Companies that want to learn more about handling disparities in minority health care may call the group for helpful materials at (202) 628-9320.