Economic Burden of Men's Health Disparities in the United States

Article excerpt

Very little is known about the economic consequences of men's health disparities. Using data from the 2006 through 2009 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and the National Vital Statistics Reports, we estimated the potential cost savings of eliminating health disparities for racial/ethnic minority men. The total direct medical care expenditures for African American men were $447.6 billion of which $24.2 billion was excess medical care expenditures. With regard to indirect costs to the economy, African American and Hispanic men incurred $317.6 and $115.0 billion respectively. These findings indicate that we cannot afford to overlook the disparities that exist, particularly among African American and Hispanic men. Failure to do so is both socially and morally wrong and carries huge economic consequences.

Keywords: men's health, health disparities, cost of illness, social determinants of health, African American men


A key objective of the United States public health agenda is to eliminate, health disparities. However over the past three decades only modest progress has been achieved with regard to men's health disparities. Minority men in general have a worse health profile than their White counterparts (Arias, 2006; Bonhommee & Young, 2009; Courtenay, 2003; Griffith, 2012, Plowden & Young, 2003; Rich, 2000; Thorpe, Bowie, Wilson-Frederick, Coa, & Laveist, 2013; Williams, 2003). These disparities are dramatically evidenced in life expectancy trends: African American males consistently experience life expectancy that is approximately eight years shorter (70.7 and 78.7 years) than Hispanic males and about 6 years shorter (70.7 and 76.3 years) than White males (Kochanek, Xu, Murphy, Minino, & Kung, 2011). While much of the research in men's health disparities has focused on understanding social, behavioral, and biological factors that underlie such inequalities, little attention has been given to their economic consequences.

Within the past ten years, there has been a growing interest in documenting the economic burden of disease. Investigators have estimated the financial burden of cancer (Gaskin, LaVeist, Richard & Ford, 2011; Fleurence, Dixon, Milanova, & Beusterien, 2007; Insinga, Dasbach, & Elbasha, 2005; Insinga, Glass, & Rush, 2004), cardiovascular disease (Doan et al., 2007; Trogdon, Finkelstein, Nwaise, Tangka, & Orenstein, 2007), diabetes (American Diabetes Association, 1998; Hogan, Dall, & Nikolov, 2003), mental health (Greenberg, Kessler, & Bimbaum, 2003; Ringel & Sturm, 2001; Wu et al., 2005), obesity (Finkelstein, Fiebelkorn, & Wang, 2003, 2004; Kortt et al. 1998), pain (Gaskin, & Richard, 2012), and other conditions (Dehkharghani, Bible, Chen, Feldman, & Fleischer, 2003; Hodgson & Cohen, 1999; Noyes, Liu, Li, Holloway, & Dick, 2006; Rein et al., 2006; Ryan, Zoellner, Gradl, Palache, & Medema, 2006; Strassels, 1999; Yelin et al., 2004; Yelin, Herrndorf, Trupin, & Sonneborn, 2001). These cost of illness studies highlight that poor health among any group within the society harms all. Most of these studies, however, have been limited in their ability to make inferences regarding how the economic burden of disease varies by group membership (i.e. race, gender, SES). This is worth noting because it is well documented that many health conditions and behaviors differ by these groups (Bleich, Jarlenski, Bell, & LaVeist, 2012). Furthermore, estimating the financial cost of disparities is useful in aiding policy makers in the allocation of resources and the creation of policies and legislation consistent with the financial impact that the disparity imposes on society.

Despite the substantial amount of health disparities research, there is a paucity of studies that have sought to examine the economic impact that health disparities impose on minorities in the U.S. LaVeist and colleagues (2011) estimated that health disparities cost the U. …