(skip this header)

Westport News

Monday, November 24, 2014

westport-news.com Businesses

« Back to Article

Racial gap extends to longevity

Updated 9:29 am, Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Larger | Smaller
Email This
Font
Page 1 of 1

If you're 65 and living in Connecticut, you can expect -- on average -- roughly 16 more years of good health, according to a new federal study. In fact, the state ranks number seven for healthy seniors, says another study, this one from the United Health Foundation.

That's if you're white.

If you're black, you can only expect about 12 more years of health. And, according to other studies, Hispanics and Latinos don't fare much better.

Connecticut faces what people are calling a silver tsunami -- a state with a rapidly aging population, which presents a potential drastic drain on public resources. Sadly, the tsunami will crash onshore with the same racial disparity in health as exists in housing, in wages, in nearly all measurable marks of well-being in one of the country's wealthiest states.

In 2010, the Connecticut Health Foundation published a study that looked at a decade of efforts to achieve health equity in the state, and said Connecticut "still has a long way to go" -- so long, in fact, that the foundation recently announced it would shift its focus strictly to health equity.

A 2009 report by the state Department of Public Health said that even while Connecticut is becoming more racially diverse, there remains "striking" inequalities that result in a mortality rate among black residents that was 1.2 times higher than that of Caucasian residents. Black residents of Connecticut don't live as long as their white neighbors, and they're not as healthy.

According to the study, for the time period studied (2000-2004), the leading cause of death among all Connecticut residents was heart disease, followed by cancer and stroke -- illnesses that can be heavily influenced by social factors such as access to healthy food. Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death, but compared to Caucasians, diabetes was the cause of death 2.5 times more often among blacks, and 1.5 times more often in Hispanics. Blacks were nearly four times more likely to face amputation as an effect of diabetes; Hispanics were 3.1 times more likely.

The list goes on, from an unequal amount of screenings, tests, and well-patient doctor visits -- all of which factor into mortality rates. Add to that subsequent research on the effect of housing, neighborhood safety, fair wages and jobs, and transportation, and you have a recipe for gross inequality that cuts lives short -- or hampers the later years with health maladies that are utterly preventable.

The immorality of that imbalance is staggering, but let's look at some numbers.

Nationally, health care inequity among races will cost $300 billion by 2018, according to the Urban Institute. The Connecticut Commission on Health Equity, created by legislative mandate in 2008, is particularly attuned to the disparity between races and ethnicities among people living with HIV/AIDS, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and asthma, as well as the consequences of low-birth weight.

A recent report from the commission says the disparity creates a "significant" financial burden to the state, as well as to the patients and their families.

The same inequality exists throughout the country, according to a healthy life expectancy study published recently in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's journal, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In all states but New Mexico and Nevada, Caucasians could expect a longer healthy life than blacks. (No other races were included in the study.) Healthy life expectancies after age 65 were lower in the south; Mississippi had the shortest, at 10.8 years. The average healthy life expectancy was 14.

Obamacare is supposed to level the playing field for health care access. Connecticut was among the first states to opt in to Medicaid expansion. For all the questions surrounding health care reform, if it's going to work anywhere, let's hope it works here.

This column was reported under a partnership with the Connecticut Health I-Team (www.c-hit.org).

Susan Campbell is a former columnist at the Hartford Courant and is now communications/development director at Partnership for Strong Communities, a Hartford-based nonprofit. She can be reached at slcampbell417@gmail.com.