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March 4, 2014

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  • NorthStar's Days In Black History

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  • African-American Museums/Historical Research

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Dr. Roland Thorpe Jr.
Dr. Roland Thorpe Jr.

Black Men Suffer From Higher Rates of Premature Death and Other Health Disparities Compared to Other Men

by Frederick H. Lowe
African-American men suffer from higher rates of health disparities compared to men of other races and ethnic groups in the form of premature death, diabetes, stroke, kidney failure, high blood pressure, poor diet, daily physical and mental trauma made worse and largely untreated because many of them lack access to health care.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which took affect Jan. 1, 2014, however, is predicted to improve the lives of black men in addition to reducing the nation's health-care costs, which are an economic burden that affects all of society.

Black men’s shorter life expectancy

The most-telling example of African-American men's health disparity is their much shorter life expectancy. Black men's life expectancy is 70.7 years, eight years shorter than Hispanic men, which is 78.7 years, and about 6 years shorter than white men, which is 76.3 years, wrote Roland J. Thorpe Jr., Ph.D. and lead author of the study titled "Economic Burden of Men's Health Disparities in United States," which was published in the Fall 2013 edition of the International Journal of Men's Health.

Dr. Thorpe, a social epidemiologist, developed his findings by using data from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality's 2006-2009 Medical Expenditure Survey to determine the prevalence of a variety of statuses and conditions among African American, Asian, Hispanic and white men. He incorporated the information in statistical models to estimate direct-medical costs and the proportion of costs incurred due to health disparities for each group.

"For African-American men, premature death has the greatest impact on indirect costs of health disparities," Dr. Thorpe wrote. "The four-year cost for premature deaths was $303.7 billion for African-American men."

Dr. Thorpe is an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Program for Research on Men's Health in the Hopkins Center for Health  Disparities Solutions.

He said that it is important to address the issue of health disparities among African American and Hispanic men because the United States is becoming a majority-minority nation where nonwhites will outnumber the whites in the near feature.

"As a result of this demographic shift, the health status of the nation will begin to reflect that of the minorities," he wrote.

Black men suffer from high rates of health disparities, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and general poor health compared to Asians, whites and Hispanics because of daily hassles, which include racism and discrimination.

In some cases, black man are unable to fulfill their role as providers. There also is a lack of access to healthcare. All of the issues mentioned contribute to health disparities among black men, Thorpe said.

The Affordable Care Act will help
Lack of health care plays a major role in health disparities among black men. As October 1, 2013, the first day of open enrollment, nearly 4 million black men lacked access to health care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"The extension of affordable insurance coverage through the new health insurance marketplace in 2014 will ensure that individuals (particularly low-wage earning men) have a choice for quality, affordable health insurance," Thorpe said.

The total direct medical expenditures for African-American men during the four-year period from 2006 to 2009 was $447.6 billion, and 5.4 percent, or $24.2 billion, were excess costs attributed to health disparities.

"There were no excess direct costs due to health disparities for the other racial and ethnic groups over the four-year period," the study found.

Thorpe said the indirect costs of lower-worker productivity due to illness and premature death were calculated using data from the Medical Expenditure Survey and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control National Vital Statistics System.
Over the four-year period, these factors cost the economy$436.3 billion --- in lower worker productivity due to illness contributed $28 billion in excess costs and premature death contributed $408.3 billion. Of the total indirect costs, African-American men accounted for $317.6 billion or 72 percent of those costs.

The study, however, does not address the unemployment rate among black men, which is always much higher than that of other racial and ethnic groups on a seasonally adjusted basis.

"It is not included in this study," Dr. Thorpe said. "However, this is a very important determinant that needs future consideration."

He added that for both economic and moral reasons the nation cannot afford to continue to look the other way at health disparities. "The cost to society is staggering," Dr. Thorpe said.

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