Blacks Have Highest Rate of Diabetes-Related Deaths in NYC

Blacks Have Highest Rate of Diabetes-Related Deaths in NYC

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NEW YORK — Diabetes-related mortality rates have reached an all-time high in New York City, with people of color hit the hardest, according to a report released this week by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Approximately one person dies of diabetes-related causes every 90 minutes in the city— a mortality rate that has nearly doubled in two decades, from 6 percent in 1990 to 10.8 percent in 2011, says the report.

Of any racial group in the five boroughs — Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx — blacks have the highest diabetes-related mortality rate, with 116 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by Hispanics (81), whites (45) and Asian and Pacific Islanders at 41, the report added. New York City has a population of more than 8 million, according to the latest U.S. Census data.

In the city’s poor neighborhoods, especially those with immigrant and ethnic communities with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (in 2013, that is $11,490 for an individual and $23,550 for a family of four) diabetes-related deaths were found to be 2.7 times higher than those in wealthy areas. It was also 1.4 times higher among males than females.

Dr. Thomas Farley, NYC health commissioner, said in a press statement: “[Diabetes] is linked to our epidemic of obesity, and like obesity, it can be prevented.”

Farley noted that the city is launching initiatives, including a radio ad campaign, to educate and encourage New Yorkers to combat diabetes by being active in order to maintain a healthy weight, eating healthy food and cutting out sugary drinks.

The diabetes epidemic — particularly Type 2 or adult-onset diabetes — continues to rise in New York City, according to the city’s health department. Two years ago, nearly 650,000 adult New Yorkers were reported having diabetes.

Under the current U.S. health care system, insurers can legally deny health insurance to people with diabetes or other pre-existing health conditions, or force them to pay higher premiums. And even for those on a basic insurance plan, primary diabetes treatment such as insulin shots is not part of the coverage, leaving patients with exorbitant co-payments and extra costs.

In New York, however, a pre-existing condition health insurance program called the NY Bridge Plan has been available since the 2010 landmark health care reform bill was passed for high-risk individuals. It covers primary and specialty care, in and out-patient hospital care, as well as cost of prescription drugs. The bridge plan will end Jan. 1, 2014 when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is fully implemented.

However, enrolling in the bridge plan can be long and tedious. Since it is on a first-come, first-served basis, people who apply after the program reaches capacity will be placed on a waiting list. Additionally, an applicant should have had no insurance coverage for at least six months.

Bridge plan enrollees residing in upstate counties have to pay a flat premium of $362 per month, and those residing in downstate counties, which includes New York City, have to pay $421 each month.
“That’s almost not affordable for many working New Yorkers,” said Luisa Santos, 51, a Filipino immigrant from Queens. “That’s more like one-third of an average monthly paycheck.”

But effective Jan. 1, 2014, with the launch of the ACA’s health insurance exchange – an online marketplace for health insurance — insurers can no longer deny coverage or charge higher premiums if a person has a pre-existing condition. This protection has already been in place for children below 19 years old, under the ACA.

Noilyn Abesamis-Mendoza, health policy director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, said that there is a perceived causal relationship between the health benefit exchange and lowering the diabetes-related mortality rate in New York City.

“It is [much more] likely for a diabetic person who has health insurance to get to the doctor than someone who does not have health coverage,” Mendoza said. “Health insurance is a facilitator to connect with the health care system.”