Wide health care differences persist between the nation's black and white populations despite civil rights improvements in many other areas, reports former Surgeon General David Satcher.

While overall longevity for both blacks and whites has improved over the last 40 years there has been little narrowing of the gap between the races, Satcher said in a paper published in the journal Health Affairs.

Satcher's paper was one of several released Wednesday by the journal, which is devoting its March/April issue to the topic of health care discrepancies between races (search).

Elimination of this racial gap would prevent an estimated 83,570 excess deaths annually, Satcher said.

Some 10,472 of those excess deaths occur among black men aged 45 to 54, according to the paper, based on a death rate of 1,060 per 100,000 black men in that age group, compared to a rate of 503 per 100,000 white men. By comparison, in 1960 the rates were 1,625 for black men and 932 for white men.

One reason for the differences is that improvements in health care access have generally not included black men unless they were elderly or disabled, Satcher said.

When Medicare became law the average black man did not live long enough to become eligible for the program, he noted.

Other factors include the relatively low incomes of black men compared to whites and their disproportionately high death rate from AIDS (search), Satcher added.

In an accompanying paper Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., calls on Congress and the Bush administration to act quickly to improve health care for minorities.

And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., agrees it is crucial to seek the goal of health security for everyone.

"The best way to eliminate health disparities is through improvements in the care we deliver to each patient," Frist writes.