In 2010, more than 200,000 people died from strokes or heart disease that could have been prevented, which is “heartbreaking,” says Thomas Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Black men, especially, are at risk: Their rate of death is 80 percent higher than the rate for white men and nearly four times higher than for white women, the CDC found in its monthly Vital Signs report.
Lack of access to health insurance and preventable care is a likely cause, Frieden said.
The CDC said that rates of avoidable deaths from heart disease, stroke and hypertension declined 29 percent from 2001 to 2010 but still accounted for 200,070 avoidable deaths. The rates declined sharply for those older than 65 and gradually for those 55 to 64, but little for those younger.
Part of that might be insurance and preventive care, Frieden said. For those with high cholesterol, 64 percent older than 65 were getting the appropriate treatment and cholesterol-lowering drugs, compared with just 48 percent of those ages 40-64, Frieden said.
“Cholesterol-lowering drugs for those at risk are very effective, but too many people who are at risk are not getting them,” he said.
Another big difference is smoking – smoking rates are much lower among the elderly, about 9.5 percent, compared with 20 percent to 22 percent among younger adults, Frieden said.
“Part of that is the survival effect, that smokers die young,” he said.
Another problem is in health insurance coverage and access to regular care, the report stated. Less than 2 percent of people older than 65 are uninsured because of Medicare, but the percentage of adults ages 18-64 who were uninsured increased from 17 percent to 22 percent from 2001 to 2010.
The Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion in some states – but not Georgia or South Carolina – is likely to offer coverage to many people next year and open up access to good care, Frieden said.
If people ages 40-64 get good medical care, “we will see significant reductions in the rate of preventable heart attacks and strokes in that population,” he said; over time, reducing the number of preventable deaths could have a significant bearing on life expectancy in the U.S.
“This is half of the difference in life expectancy between the U.S. and other countries,” he said.
Black men, in particular, are hard hit. Their rate of preventable death from stroke or heart disease was 143 per 100,000 in 2010, compared with 80.9 per 100,000 for white males, 78.4 per 100,000 for black females and 36.1 per 100,000 for white females, a nearly fourfold difference in death rates between black males and white females, the report found.