Healthcare Inequality: The Chicken or Egg

Scholars say that health inequality is composed of three related problems. The first involves health itself and includes diseases, violence, drug abuse, and other afflictions. The second involves access to care and includes hospitals, doctors, clinics, medical technology, medicine, and proper medical procedures. The third involves access to health insurance, specifically people’s ability to pay for the care. Each problem has intertwined solutions. The Affordable Care Act has taken strides to give equal access to health insurance, but this has not necessarily translated into solutions regarding equal access to care, and even less progress was made to make citizens equally as healthy. Health inequality is clearly a product of unequal access to quality care and health insurance. However, Katherine Baicker, a Professor of Health Economics at the Harvard Chan School and acting chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management, said “Health insurance affects health care. Health care affects health. But there are other things that affect health.” Health inequality is entangled within societal problems like race, unequal education, unequal economic opportunities, unfavorable geography. However, analysts say the deepest and most consistent cause is income. Poorer Americans are unfortunately dealt with a substandard quality of care, poorer living environment, and negative social influences. The life expectancy gap between rich and poor Americans is 15 years, and some life expectancy gaps between the richest and poorest counties stretch 30 years. Eliminating health inequality requires finding solutions to overarching and intertwined societal problems, both inside and outside of healthcare. Poor education often leads to low paying jobs, which lead to poor standards to livings, which lead to poor diets and habits. Addressing these problems requires extreme breadth and innovation from the government.


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