June 2009 - Lowering Healthcare Costs for African-Americans

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I was delighted to read an article here regarding the White House efforts to lower healthcare costs and the long-term impacts on the African-American Community.   Approximately $1 billion has been designated to fund prevention efforts and public health campaigns, and $2 billion has been designated to the National Institutes of Health for further research on chronic diseases-- including heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes—from which African-Americans suffer disproportionately.

As I read this great news, I was reminded of an old joke from my early years in public health:  Some people were standing by a river, when they noticed that a  man had been swept up in the current and was being washed downstream.  A good Samaritan was standing by and jumped in to save the man.  A few minutes later, another man was also being washed downstream.  Once again, the good Samaritan jumped in and saved the man from drowning.  A few minutes later, another man was being washed downstream.  At this point, the good Samaritan began to walk  up the bank of the river.  Everyone asked—“aren’t you going to jump in and save this man also?”  The good Samaritan replied “No.  I’m going to go find out why all these people keep falling into the river and stop them before they fall in!”

Without question, we need to spend money on improving healthcare systems for African-Americans, making them more—available, accessible, and affordable. We also desperately need more money for research on chronic disease to develop better treatments.  This will make a tremendous difference in eliminating the disproportionate morbidity and mortality from chronic disease that is experienced by way too many African-Americans and will go a long way to cut health care costs for this population.  However, spending money is this area is akin to “pulling folks out of the river”.

Prevention of chronic disease and public health campaigns are as important as better treatment when is comes to lowering health costs.  Prevention is akin to the good Samaritan going up the river to prevent people from falling in.  It’s easier to prevent the problem than to continually having to save people.  Let’s face it-- prevention pays.  Imagine, if African-Americans ate healthier and exercised more.  We’d have less obesity, less heart disease and less diabetes; less days lost from work; less money spent on healthcare expenses; more money in our pockets.  Perhaps the biggest payoff is a lower mortality rate—which translates into more time—with family and friends—which is priceless.

No need to wait on the government stimulus package to start lowering our health care costs.  It’s time that we realized that some things we can, should, and must do for ourselves to lower health care costs—practicing good preventive health behaviors is one of them.

With you on your Journey to Wellness,
Dr. Mary S. Harris

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