NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 27, 2009

Americans are growing skeptical of President Obama's health care package -- and for good reason.  The gargantuan new bureaucracy Obamacare envisions would not only be inefficient and expensive but could give birth to a new racial spoils system, says Linda Chavez, chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity.

Among the provisions in the thousand-page House version are special set-asides aimed at training "underrepresented" minorities in health care professions.  The idea is that some minority groups -- but not all -- will be better served if their doctors share their racial and ethnic background.  It's an idea that has been floating around for years.

There is no question that African-Americans, on average, die younger and have poorer health than whites.  What is less clear is why that is the case.  But will insisting on preferences for African-American students applying to medical school admission improve health care for blacks?  Not likely, says Chavez.

A 2006 study by the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) on preferential admission practices at the University of Michigan School of Medicine (UMMS) showed that admitting black students with lower grades and test scores is a bad idea -- especially for the patients who might be treated by these doctors.  Consider:

  • Black students admitted by UMMS had substantially lower test scores and undergraduate science grade point averages than all other groups admitted.
  • Indeed, in the four years of data the CEO analyzed, 11,647 white, Asian, and Hispanic applicants were rejected by UMMS even though they had better grades and test scores than the average black student admitted.
  • The CEO has studied preferences in medical school admissions at more than a half-dozen medical schools, including the University of Maryland, the University of Washington, and the State University of New York Brooklyn, all with the same overall results.

African-American med students who are admitted despite having lower grades or test scores than their white or Asian peers are less likely to pass medical licensing exams -- or, even if they pass, are more likely to perform poorly on them, says Chavez.  This hurts everyone: the better-qualified students who are passed over to admit those who will eventually fail to become doctors, and the patients who may end up treated by doctors who are less well prepared.  If the idea is to get more black doctors to treat black patients, is it really going to improve health care for African-Americans if those doctors perform worse on medical licensing exams?

Source: Linda Chavez, "Health Care Quotas," Jewish World Review, July 24, 2009.

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