Health disparities gap could widen in Michigan

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     In 2005, the life expectancy for an African American male in Michigan was 68 years — similar to the life expectancy of white Michigan males in 1950. White males can now expect to live an average of nearly 76 years in Michigan.   

    At the start of life, the infant mortality rate for African American babies is nearly triple the rate of white infants in Michigan.   

    These and other racial health disparities in Michigan are outlined in a new report released today by the Michigan League for Human Services. The report concludes that programs on the chopping block could add to the state’s considerable racial gap in health status.   

    The report, Looming Cuts in Michigan’s Budget Threaten to Widen the Gulf in Health Disparities, finds:

    •  Michigan’s American Indians/Alaskan Natives have the highest stroke mortality rate;
    •  African Americans make up 20 percent of state deaths due to heart disease, but represent only 14 percent of the population; and
    •  African Americans suffer the highest mortality rate due to cancer.

     

    “The good news is that we know we can reduce health disparities through effective programs and interventions,’’ said Karen Holcomb-Merrill, director of state fiscal policy for the Michigan League for Human Services. “The bad news is that we’re facing huge deficits next year and policymakers are showing a willingness to cut these programs.”    

    On the cuts list is the Nurse Family Partnership, where nurses work with new mothers in communities with high infant mortality rates and School-Based Health Centers, which are located in medically underserved areas and in schools that serve low-income children. The Michigan Care Improvement Registry, credited with improving the rates of immunization and lead testing, also has been cut.     

    Also targeted for cuts are a number of Healthy Michigan Fund programs that are designed to reduce chronic disease and risk factors associated with them, particularly important for racial and ethnic minorities that are affected at higher rates.
     
    The report points out that those racial and ethnic minority populations in Michigan and elsewhere are growing faster than the white population. As these populations increase, so will the impact of health disparities.  Poverty is a key contributing factor to health disparities.  Those living in poverty are less likely to receive good medical care and have access to healthy food. They are more likely to live with stress and uncertainty.  In 2006, the percentage of African Americans in Michigan living in poverty was more than double that of whites – 24.3 percent compared with 10.3 percent.    

    The disparity worsens for children. According to Kids Count in Michigan, 44 percent of the state’s young African American children and 29 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty in 2006, compared with 15 percent of white non-Hispanic children.    

    “These findings are unacceptable. With a new fiscal year starting in just over seven weeks, and an alarming revenue gap approaching $3 billion, we must protect the progress we have made in working in high-risk communities to close these health care disparities,’’ said League President and CEO Sharon Parks.    

    Parks said that even with federal stimulus money available to the state to avoid layoffs and continue programs, the budget gap is nearly $1 billion.    

    “To cut another billion dollars from our existing programs will hurt vulnerable people throughout the state. We must find other options,’’ she said.    

    The League has offered a series of revenue options that could eliminate or soften the deep cuts that are needed to close next year’s gap.  Those options, Facts Matter, are available on the home page of the League’s Web site, www.milhs.org .
     
    The Michigan League for Human Services is a nonprofit, nonpartisan statewide advocacy group for low-income residents. It has more than 1,500 members from business, labor, faith-based organizations and human service professions as well as concerned citizens

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