"The implications of these differences are sobering," said Raymond C. Tait, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, and principal investigator of the study.
"Even though patients have equal access to health care through the Workers' Compensation system, there are substantial differences in the treatment costs that they incur. African-Americans and the poor clearly fare worse."
The research examined 1,472 Workers' Compensation cases in Missouri that involved lower back injuries, which often are a source of chronic pain. The study found that African-Americans had less money spent on their medical care, less excused time from work and smaller financial settlements than Caucasians.
Saint Louis University researchers found that differences in case settlements also varied with socioeconomic status. Those of lower socioeconomic status - who were less educated and earned smaller incomes - received less costly medical care and smaller financial settlements for their injuries than those who were more educated and had higher incomes.
However the differences were not so pronounced as those between African-Americans and Caucasians, added John Chibnall, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, and a study co-investigator.
"We expected that African-Americans would incur shorter treatment periods, lower treatment costs, lower temporary total disability payments, lower disability ratings and lower settlement awards," Chibnall said. "The extent of it surprised us. It's pretty clear there is disparity in a system that's supposed to provide equal access for everyone."