There's a new study out showing African-Americans are far more likely to die of colon cancer than whites. Why? Because whites are more likely to have health insurance. They're more likely to have jobs that offer coverage that includes colonoscopies.

If Mike had had access to a colonoscopy, he'd still be alive. Instesad he is one of 49,000 people to die of colon cancer in 2008.

So far, 26 states have enacted laws forcing insurance companies to pay for colon cancer screenings. But you still need insurance. And in 24 states, your insurance company can tell you it won't pay for a colonoscopy unless it's to diagnose an existing problem.

Of course, you can get around that by complaining of abdominal pain and unexplained diarrhea or constipation and having your doctor order one to diagnose the problem. It could save your life.

Here's more on the study from an article in US News & World Report:

The Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures 2008-2010 report -- the second edition of a report first issued in 2005 found that colorectal cancer incidence and deaths continue to decrease among both blacks and whites, but rates remain higher and declines have been slower among blacks. In fact, the gap between blacks and whites has actually increased over the past few years, the report said.

For example, the previous report found the colorectal cancer incidence rate was 63.1 per 100,000 among white men and 72.9 per 100,000 among black men, a difference of 9.8. The new report said the incidence rate is now 58.9 per 100,000 among white men and 71.2 per 100,000 among black men, a difference of 12.3.

In 2008, an estimated 148,800 people in the United States will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and about 49,000 will die of the disease, which is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in the country, according to the American Cancer Society.

Many of those cancers and deaths could be prevented through more widespread use of cancer prevention methods and by increasing access to screening tests.

Not only do we deny access to millions of Americans to our health care system, the ones who are fortunate enough to have an in might be relegated to failing hospitals, where errors occur at alarming rates.

Check out this story from the NY Times about hospital oversight:

While other industrial nations have government agencies charged with protecting people, we have the nonprofit Joint Commission, which is understaffed and has no enforcement powers.

So, if you need to go to the hospital, there's no real way to tell if the hospital you choose lives up to any standard of quality care.

Just another way our so-called health care system is failing.

From the Associated Press:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A homeless woman who died after writhing in pain on a hospital floor for nearly an hour could have survived if she had received proper treatment, a county report concedes.

The report, obtained by the Los Angeles Times when it was briefly and inadvertently made public in a court filing, said 43-year-old Edith Rodriguez “could have been saved, at least in the early part of her detention” at the troubled Martin Luther King-Harbor Hospital in May 2007. The report was prepared by an outside firm hired by Los Angeles County to look into its liability.

“This is a case of medical negligence as to the medical treatment provided by medical staff at the facility,” the report said.

It concludes that the county should attempt to settle a $45 million lawsuit filed by the woman's adult children for $250,000, the same amount recently offered by county supervisors to Rodriguez's boyfriend in a separate lawsuit.

County prosecutors investigating the death earlier this year decided that the medical staff misdiagnosed Rodriguez and failed to treat her properly but were not criminally negligent. No charges were filed. “Prompt intervention would not have saved her life,” prosecutors said in their report.

Rodriguez, who died of a perforated bowel, had been seen at the hospital at least six times in the month before her death and had spent 14 hours there a day earlier. On the day she died, she was arrested inside the hospital on an outstanding warrant for a parole violation. She could be seen on security cameras lying on the floor as a janitor mopped around her and a nursed dismissed her problems.

Rodriguez's death and several other instances of allegedly shoddy care cost the hospital $200 million in federal funding in 2007, and it was closed to all but outpatient care.

And another thing ...

This isn't such a rare story anymore.

In April, a 50-year-old man, Steven Dabock, died in a North Carolina State psychiatric hospital. He choked on his medication while nearby hospital employees ignored him. Three of them were fired and five others suspended for less than a week.

In the weeks before Mike died, three people were released from state psychiatric hospitals without proper discharge plans and died as a direct result.

One man died in the county jail here in March, after the local hospital treated him in the emergency room for pneumonia and he refused to leave. Hospital officials called the police. Tommy McMahan died that night in his cell.

Had he been released to the street, that's where he would have died. Even if the hospital had taken him in, he probably was too sick to recover.

Every day, people are released from psychiartic hospitals and jails to the street or to homeless shelters, and they can't cope. Some die on the street, some wind up back in jail or the hospital within weeks.

I have covered the "reform" of North Carolina's mental health system for six years and I have covered homelessness for even longer. I wasn't suprised at these deaths.

Psychiatric hospital workers are paid poor wages, kept on for double shifts, ordered to look after too many patients and poorly trained.

The people in these hospitals are generally uninsured. Some are covered by Medicaid, others by the state. But the reimbursement rates are low and not enough to cover the care these people need.

Every one of the state's four psychiatric hospitals has had federal and state violations; two have lost Medicaid/Medicare certification and had to correct deficiencies to get it back.

People are dying because they don't have access to adequate care, and because they're poor or have a psychiatric illness or other disability, no one is watching.