The business case for paying close attention to men’s health
By Armin Brott, McClatchy Newspapers
December 2, 2011
Most people know that men live shorter (by five years), less-healthy lives than women. They’re more likely to: be the victim of a violent crime, die in a car crash, commit suicide, and be injured at work. Men also have higher death rates from nine of the top-10 killers, are more likely to be uninsured, and are far less likely to receive routine preventive care. Hundreds of thousands of men die of preventable causes. Millions more have chronic illness, injury or disability that could have been prevented.
With so much attention being paid to health care these days, one would expect that men’s unique health issues would be on the front burner. Sadly, they’re not even on the stove. Perhaps we need to consider the state of men’s health from a more self-interested perspective.
The simple fact is that ignoring men’s health costs the federal government and the private sector more than $320 billion per year. To clarify, that figure isn’t what it would cost to completely eliminate men’s health problems — it’s just to get men as healthy as women. Here’s how that $320 billion breaks down.
• Tax revenues. If you’re not working (or even alive), you’re not paying income tax. Using U.S. Census Bureau statistics for the difference between the number of men and women alive and employed (1.2 million), estimated annual salary ($50,000), and average net tax burden (9.2 per cent by employees, 7.65 per cent by employers), men’s premature death costs federal, state and local governments more than $9 billion a year.
• Caring for the uninsured. Men account for more than 55 per cent of the unemployed. Unemployed people are less likely to have insurance and often put off medical treatment until it’s too late. The Institute of Medicine estimates that the total cost of caring for uninsured Americans ranges from $65 billion to $130 billion. Taking 10 per cent of that (the difference between men’s and women’s shares) yields $6.5 billion to $13 billion per year.
• Poverty in widowhood. Compared with elderly married women, elderly widows are five times more likely to live in poverty. The federal government incurs a total of $127 billion a year on expenses directly relating to men’s poor health and premature death. .
That’s more than $142 billion. Every year. And we’re just getting started.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention track a statistic that measures years of potential life lost. They estimate that there are 3.6 million more years of life lost in the United States by men than by women (9.17 million versus 5.56). Most researchers estimate the value of one year of life (it’s a terrible way to look at the world, but it’s a necessary calculation) at between $95,000 and $297,000. Using just $50,000 per year, we see that men’s premature death costs no less than $180 billion every year.
Even using the low end of ranges, the total is more than $320 billion — $1,000 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. Every year.
So what’s the solution? There’s no one silver bullet, but we know we need to start taking seriously health issues specific to men. Step one is to eliminate the disparity between spending on men’s and women’s health. The National Institutes of Health estimates it will spend $3.76 billion on women’s health, including $778 million on breast cancer and $95 million on cervical cancer. In contrast, the NIH expects to spend just $337 million on prostate cancer.
Step two is to create and fund a Federal Office of Men’s Health. There are at least eight Office of Women’s Health on the federal level in the U.S., with combined budgets in the tens of billions of dollars.
Over the last 20 years, advocates for women have done an amazing job giving visibility — and funding — to women’s health. As a result, millions of women’s lives have been saved and millions more have been improved. It’s high time we did the same for men.
Armin Brott is the author of The Military Father: A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads and The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be.
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