WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 80,000 black Americans die every year because
of continuing disparities in health care, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David
Satcher said on Wednesday.
Although the government, public and insurance companies know blacks get shortchanged
in health care, little has been done to improve the situation, Satcher and other
health experts said.
Satcher examined U.S. mortality rates for blacks and whites between 1960 and
2000 and found that 40.5 percent more blacks died each year than would have
been expected if they were white. That adds up to 83,570 deaths a year, he reported
in a special issue of the journal Health Affairs.
Many studies have looked at the gap between blacks and whites in health care,
and find a variety of factors contribute to the problem, including economic
status, education, prejudice and access to doctors and clinics. Many U.S. blacks
also say they mistrust doctors and hospitals.
In 2002, the Institute of Medicine, an independent group, reported that members
of racial and ethnic minorities are given lower quality health care than whites
even when they make as much money and carry the same insurance.
In January, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that
black people in the United States are far more likely than whites to die from
strokes, diabetes and other diseases.
Sociologist David Williams of the University of Michigan and colleagues reported
in the same issue of Health Affairs 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
"The virtual elimination of a racial disparity in death rates from flu
and pneumonia is 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, who advocates 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,
"We need to rethink what constitutes health policy in this country,"
U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and doctor, said Congress is addressing
many of the issues in encouraging electronic-based medical records and other
"The best way to drive down overall costs while increasing value is to
foster competitively driven innovation -- as we do in the rest of our economy,"
Frist argued in another article in the journal.