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Gaps linger in U.S. health care

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Health and Human Services Department has found a higher death rate for cancer among blacks and low-income Americans in its review of the nation's health care system.

Those groups are less likely to be screened for certain cancers and less likely to avail themselves of other preventive services, according to the two studies released Monday by the department.

The reports also found low-income people are less likely to have a regular doctor and more likely to visit the hospital for conditions that could be treated elsewhere.

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said the studies show areas in which the nation has improved health care, "but more importantly, it shows us where we have more work to do and how we can make sure that all Americans benefit from scientific advances and technological innovations."

One report evaluated the quality of national health care and the other examined disparities. The department conducted the studies to fulfill a congressional requirement to review the health care system, particularly the treatment provided to women, children, minorities and the poor.

Among the problems found by the studies:

  • Children under 4 who are poor or black are less likely to receive immunizations.
  • Only 20 percent of patients prescribed a medication to treat diagnosed depression have at least 3 recommended follow up visits to monitor their medication in the 12 weeks after diagnosis.
  • Less than half of acute heart attack patients who smoke are counseled to quit while in the hospital.
  • While 90 percent of adults 45 or older have their blood pressure checked, only about 25 percent of people with high blood pressure have it under control.

The department said progress has been made in these areas:

  • Seventy percent of women over 40 were screened for breast cancer within the past two years and 81 percent of women over 18 had a cervical cancer screening within the past three years.
  • Almost 90 percent of in-center kidney dialysis patients get adequate dialysis.
  • Approximately 83 percent of women have prenatal care in their first trimester.
  • More than 80 percent of Medicare recipients hospitalized with pneumonia get the type of antibiotics they need after a prompt evaluation.

Read the two reports at: