Health event shows stark disparities

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Austin residents learned once again Tuesday about the serious health disparities between whites and blacks in Chicago – and what they can do to close the gap.

Various Austin health organizations gathered pastors, community organizers and residents to listen to testimony at Amberg Hall, 1140 N. Lamon St., from experts who showed that more African-Americans die from various diseases than whites.

In fact, a 25-year-long study conducted by the Sinai Urban Health Institute showed that 3,200 more African-Americans die than whites each year in Chicago, said Dr. Steve Whitman, a key organizer at the institute.

Fifteen health measures, including strokes, lung cancer and breast cancer, were considered in the study. In a majority of these categories, blacks have continued to experience a higher death rate than whites, which Whitman attributed to a lack of proper health care access for all races.

The death rate for African-Americans with breast cancer, for example, was twice as high in 2005 as it was in 1990 in Chicago, Whitman said. The death rate also grew in a similar fashion in heart disease.

“White women have made large gains against breast cancer, but black women have not been allowed access to these gains at all,” Whitman said.

In Austin, Whitman said the life expectancy is about six years lower than the overall city of Chicago. The area is about 85 percent African American.

The best way to combat the gap is through prevention efforts, presenters said.

Catherine Jones, PTA president for Frederick Douglass High School, pushed for prevention efforts, saying she gets regular mammograms. Recently, doctors detected a benign tumor. But, she asked, what if the tumor was cancerous and she wasn’t getting regular check-ups?

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) agreed that prevention is the biggest life saver. She said she holds yearly health fairs in Austin that focus on prevention efforts.

“A young man told me I saved his life because he went and got tested for prostate cancer after one of my fairs,” Mitts said.

Prevention and treatment may be easier now as provisions from the Affordable Care Act begin to kick in, presenters told residents.

More Illinoisans will be entitled to certain benefits and cost-relief based on their income level, said Barbara Otto, CEO of Health and Disability Advocates.

The federal health law will require Americans to either choose a healthcare plan or pay a fee for not having health insurance, said Stephani Becker, project director for Illinois Health Matters. The yearly fee for the uninsured will start at $95 in 2014, which could be bumped to $695 in 2015.

People who earn between 139 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level can get assistance when buying insurance. That means a family of four whose total income is $90,000 or less may be eligible for assistance.

Businesses with 50 or more full-time workers will now be required to provide a minimum health care package for employees.

Some benefits that have already taken effect are largely unknown, Otto said.

For example, women don’t have to pay for many preventative procedures offered by private insurance plans after Sept. 23, 2010, but she said she always finds women who don’t know that.

Now that residents know about the healthcare gap and what they’re eligible for, they should take action.

“It’s our responsibility to be part of a healthy community,” Otto said.


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