By Erik Suh
For Northwest Asian Weekly
Diversity is a term that is frequently used in a wide range of issues these days.
It is understood to be beneficial to a community because it represents tolerance that we cherish in a vibrant community. For those of us whose parents immigrated to the United States, it also represents the ability to hold on to important parts of our culture while enjoying the cultural benefits of living in America.
As a doctor, diversity plays a role in being able to provide the best care to the patients I see. Every patient is different, and my ability to access a wide range of treatments is critical to providing good care.
Patients also need a diversity of options. For instance, it is a good rule of thumb that patients get a second opinion before making a major medical decision. Those of us in KAHPA also recognize that some are more comfortable with a doctor who speaks their language and understands their culture. Their comfort can provide better communication that is critical to effective medical care.
I am concerned, however, that the push by private insurance companies and health programs to limit access to treatments and medications can put diversity in health care at risk. I see the challenges my patients face in receiving the health care they deserve due to limits that our insurance plans have put forth due to the costs. We need to understand that these efforts can take away options that our diverse patients rely on.
For example, prescription medicines can have different side effects depending on the patients’ ethnic background. Therefore, receiving the wrong class of medication can adversely affect the treatment plan. However, certain insurance plans will restrict the patients from receiving prescribed medication which was chosen by their doctors with their ethnicity in mind. This business model forces the patients to use other medications that are cheaper for the insurance companies, which will increase their profit.
In 2009, facing a budget crisis, the state passed legislation which restricted the doctors’ ability to prescribe certain medicines. This rrequires patients to try cheaper medicines. For many, generics work well and are suitable. For those who need medicines that are more suited to their ethnicity, however, these rules move us toward a one-size-fits-all approach that makes it difficult to treat patients on an individual basis. These government programs and private insurance formularies often make it difficult to access the right medicines, putting barriers in front of the best medicines for my patients.
Our medical professionals realize that we cannot simply be given a blank check to spend whatever we think is necessary. However, cultural diversity and knowledge of how to treat the diverse patient population in our community should be in the hands of the physician. Diversity of treatment options is an important part of good health care and we need to be sure that we don’t lose that as government and private insurance companies limit options to cut costs and increase their bottom line. ♦
Eric Suh is president of the Korean American Health Professional Association.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.