Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new report on racial disparities. To no one’s surprise, the poor, the uninsured and the less educated tend to live shorter, sicker lives and cost our nation billions of dollars in heath related care.
Babies born to African American women are up to three times more likely to die in infancy than those born to women of other races. More than 80% of all suicides are committed by whites. More African Americans die of heart disease and strokes. High blood pressure is twice as common among African Americans. African American, Hispanics and American Indians have higher rates of new infection with the AIDS virus than whites.
These trends have basically stayed the same for many years with one exception….overdose death rates are now higher among whites than African Americans. That trend changed in 2002, after doctors began prescribing more powerful painkillers, antidepressants and antipsychotics which are more easily obtained by people with health insurance.
The new federal health reform law gives special emphasis to prevention and pays providers according to positive health outcomes rather than volume. In other words, it is in everyone’s best interest to stay healthy. Before reform, doctors and drug companies made money primarily when we get sick. Hopefully this new financial emphasis will encourage doctors and patients to focus more on staying healthy.
But we have to do our part too…we have to eat healthy foods and exercise regularly. We have to go to the doctor for routine preventive tests that can spot a heath concern while it is easily treatable. We have to use our seat belts when driving and wear helmets when biking, sledding and snow skiing.
We are making some progress but until we find solutions that significantly reduce poverty and provide quality educational opportunities to the poor, then we will continue to have health disparities for the foreseeable future.