Black policymakers, corporate executives, advocates, and community leaders are concerned about the state of Black health in Tennessee.

In its first-ever health equity report, BlueCross BlueShield revealed data based on the stark racial care disparities Black Tennessee residents face in behavioral healthcare, maternal healthcare, cancer care, and more. 

From reproductive rights, HIV prevention, and local community health resources to affordable housing and generational wealth, Black policymakers, corporate executives, advocates, and community leaders are concerned about the state of Black health in Tennessee. The Nashville Tennessean reported that a town hall meeting was held at the 47th National Black Caucus of State Legislators on Nov. 26 to provide tools capable of developing and implementing policy and legislative engagement on these issues.

A longstanding history of racial bias and health inequity is prevalent among Black communities across the United States. These obstacles put Black people at higher risk of untreated chronic illnesses, as well as at higher risk of being underserved in critical situations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), social determinants of health are the conditions in “which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems” that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.

For instance, Knoxville residents of predominantly Black neighborhoods are more than twice as likely as those in largely white neighborhoods to owe money for medical bills, Urban Institute credit bureau data reported, which marked one of the widest racial disparities in the country. People with medical debt avoid seeking care, become sicker with treatable chronic conditions, and have even been denied care because they owe money.

“The TN Black Caucus is extremely concerned about the state of our community’s health and excited about this town hall,” Tennessee Black Caucus State Legislators Chairman Rep. Sam McKenzie told the Nashville Tennessean prior to the event. “We are bringing experts from Meharry (Medical College) and across the nation to strategize on how we can best inform behavior of our people and discuss needed policy changes in our state governments.”

According to data analyzed from publicly available sources and BlueCross members, racial and social factors influence health outcomes in six areas: behavioral health, cancer, child and adolescent well-care, chronic condition management, COVID-19, and maternal health.

  • Drug Overdose: Since 2014, the drug overdose rate among Black adults has increased by 270%, compared to 58% for white Tennesseans.
  • Breast Cancer Mortality: Black women in Tennessee have the ninth highest death rate from breast cancer in the US, and only 63% of Black Tennesseans ages 50 and older were screened for colorectal cancer.
  • Cervical Cancer Mortality: Black Tennesseans are three times as likely to die of cervical cancer compared to their white counterparts.
  • Maternal Mortality: Black patients were two and a half times more likely to have a pregnancy-related death than white patients.
  • Youth Violence: Black children and teens are twice as likely to die than white children and teens in Tennessee.
  • Diabetes: Black women in Tennessee are twice as likely to die from diabetes than white women.
  • High Blood Pressure: Black adults are 40% more likely to have high blood pressure and less likely to have it under control than white adults.
  • Vaccinations: Black children were 40% less likely than white children to be vaccinated against the flu in 2021.

The Tennessee Black Caucus takes pride in serving and improving the quality of life for African Americans via policy, advocacy, and action.

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