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The cost of poor health is a lot higher than feeling poorly.

The Milken Institute, a private economic think tank based in California, released a report in 2007 that estimated the most preventable, common chronic diseases were costing the U.S. economy more than $1 trillion annually and could reach as much as $6 trillion by the middle of this century.

African-American doctors have said repeatedly that preventive maintenance not only lowers the risk of illness and death, but reduces health care costs, and have urged their patients to be more attentive to their health.

Even the business community has tried to cut health care costs by encouraging companies to institute wellness initiatives, including smoking cessation classes and weight-loss programs.

Now comes news that patient advocacy groups, including the AARP, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, are raising the alarm over a provision in the Senate version of the health care reform bill that could penalize people who are deemed to be not doing enough to take care of themselves.

The bill would give employers a discount on health care costs if they institute wellness programs, but the employees would get to define who meets the standards of wellness, what the cutoffs would be, who would be exempt and under what conditions. Those who fail to meet their company’s standard might, ultimately, have to pay extra for health care.

African-Americans are disproportionately represented among those who suffer from the most common chronic illnesses, including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

The cardiovascular death rate for black Americans, for example, is 395 per 100,000 persons, compared to 201 per 100,000 for white Americans.

And much of this could be prevented by going for a simple health screening.

Lenore T. Coleman, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy and a recognized expert in the areas of diabetes and cardiovascular risk-reduction, told “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” about a year ago that a simple blood test could determine whether one has diabetes.

Coleman, author of “Healing Our Village: A Self Care Guide to Diabetes Control” and founder of, an online information service, said 3 million was actually a modest number because many black people won’t see a doctor for a regular checkup that could diagnose the problem.

Kirk Geter, D.P.M., assistant professor at the College of Medicine and chief of the Division of Podiatry at Howard University Hospital, told in an earlier interview that a test for diabetes should be a part of a routine physical for people who have a history of the disease in their families.

Besides diabetes, a number of illnesses can be found, he said, by a simple foot exam.

Dentists and ophthalmologists say routine dentist visits and eye exams also can find indicators of other problems.

One way to get ahead of possibly grim news is to have a health screening for common ailments.


“Employers, insurers, governments and communities need to work together to develop strong incentives for patients and health-care providers to prevent and treat chronic disease effectively. In many respects, we’ve gotten what we paid for: Only a tiny fraction of health-care spending is developed to the promotion of healthier behavior, despite the fact that preventable chronic diseases are linked to smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and drug and alcohol use,” the Milken report said.

Obesity is quickly becoming the nation’s leading health crisis, with nearly 80 percent of black adult women and 67 percent of black adult men now overweight. Approximately 20 percent of blacks between the ages of 12 and 19 are overweight, and, for the first time in our nation’s history, the current generation of young people …..


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