June is Men’s Health Month. The Health & Wellness committee of One Hundred Black Men spent the past 27 days raising awareness of preventable health problems and health concerns disproportionately impacting the African-American community. Louis Baldwin and I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with Mayor David Dinkins and discuss these activities on his Saturday morning radio show called Dialogue with Dinkins. His radio show used to air on Saturdays from 8am – 9am on 1190AM WLIB until April 2015 when after 2 decades he finally called it quits.
Dialogue with Dinkins- Listen to the full interview
The Mayor was a founding member of One Hundred Black Men (www.ohbm.org), a non-profit organization started in 1963 by like-minded business, political and community leaders. David Dinkins and others came together by their desire to address issues of inequities in the African-American community. They aimed to empower other African-Americans to be agents for change. Now, celebrating its 50th anniversary, One Hundred Black Men have over 116 chapters across the United States, the Caribbean, England, and Africa.
African-Americans & Cancer
Cancer is of particular concern for the Health & Wellness committee. A February 2013 study from the American Cancer Society indicated that death rates for all cancers are 33% higher for African-American men and 16% higher for African-American women, compared to their White counterparts.
Specifically, for prostate cancer, the incidence rate is 40% higher and the death rate is 2.5 times higher for African-American men. For colorectal cancer, the incidence rate is 23% higher and the death rate is 31% higher.
This is particularly alarming and upsetting because these two cancers can be treated or prevented if detected early. Additionally, these disparities have more to do with where people live (socio-economic issues) than with biology or genetics. African-Americans disproportionately live in poor neighborhoods lacking access to quality health care. Many times these barriers lead to late diagnoses when health issues have higher severities and are more expensive to treat.
As a result, the Health & Wellness committee participated in a cancer prevention study sponsored by the American Cancer Society (ACS). The committee helped educate and find over 100 people in a 2 month period to sign up for this prevention study and aid ACS in finding treatments to better cure and prevent cancer.
African-Americans & the Affordable Care Act
In less than 95 days the Affordable Care Act should address some of these disparities by increasing the availability and affordability of quality health care. Many screenings for preventable diseases will be covered for free by the health insurance plans sold in 2014.
An Urban Institute study found that more than 2.7M people lack insurance in New York. African-Americans make up 17% of this population, roughly 450,000 people. However, based on their modeling only 167,000 (37%) will actually get insurance in 2014. The other 283,000 African-Americans (63%) will remain uninsured. About half of those that remain uninsured would actually be eligible for free public insurance options like Medicaid or Child Health Plus.
That is unacceptable.
Awareness and education will be essential to lowering the uninsured rates for African-Americans. In turn, this will help to eliminate the various health care disparities that exist. Health disparities affect everyone. They are a silent tax on our economy. Every time we lose human productivity, we deprive our economy of sustainable growth. Disparities also indirectly increase our health insurance premiums. Every time we treat a preventable disease, we negatively impact health insurance risk pools which in the long run increase health care costs for everyone.