Unequal healthcare kills 80,000 black Americans

Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher said this week that over 80,000 black Americans die every year because of disparities in health care. Despite government and public and insurance companies knowledge of this shortchange in health care for blacks, they have done little to improve the situation.

An examination of U.S. mortality rates for blacks and whites between 1960 and 2000 and found that 40.5 percent more blacks died each year than whites. That, says Satcher adds up to 83,570 deaths a year.

Many studies looking at the gap between blacks and whites in health care, have found a variety of factors contribute to the problem, including economic status, education, prejudice and access to doctors and clinics. Many U.S. blacks mistrust doctors and hospitals.

An independent group, the Institute of Medicine, reported in 2002, that racial and ethnic minorities are given lower quality health care than whites despite making as much money and having the same insurance.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in January, that black people in the United States are far more likely than whites to die from strokes, diabetes and other diseases. In the same issue of Health Affairs, sociologist David Williams of the University of Michigan and colleagues reported that blacks had 30 percent higher death rates from cancer and heart disease than whites did in 2000.

In 1950, blacks and whites were equally likely to die from heart disease and blacks had lower death rates from cancer. But the opposite happened with flu and pneumonia, the seventh-leading cause of death. Racial disparity was virtually eliminated in death rates from flu and pneumonia as a result of the ready availability of treatment facilitated by Medicare and Medicaid, said Pamela Braboy Jackson of Indiana University, who worked with Williams. Satcher, an advocate for a national health care system not based on private insurance, said such a system would help, as would having more blacks in the health care professions. Neighborhoods that are safe and designed to encourage exercise would also help, he said. Congress is attempting to address many of the issues in encouraging electronic-based medical records and other legislation, U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and doctor, said.

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