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Health Care Inequality: the Socio-Economic Factors

The problem of inequality in various aspects of socio-economic life and the problems of overcoming it are increasingly becoming the subject of discussions in politics, scientific research, and social policy. The United Nations and the European Union devote much attention to these problems (Costa-Font and Cowell 172). They emphasize the values of social justice and human rights, the importance of equality of opportunity as a condition for social cohesion and social integration. This also applies to the issue of inequality in health care, to which the World Health Organization has paid much attention over the past decade (“Evidence and Resources to Act on Health Inequities”). This paper aims at outlining the socio-economic factors, particularly economic inequality, as the most significant cause for healthcare inequality in the USA and other developed countries.

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First of all, the idea of healthcare inequality should be defined. According to WHO, it is the disparities in health conditions among the different social groups (“Evidence and Resources to Act on Health Inequities” 7). Healthcare inequality is believed to be tied to the economic disparities of the world population. There is some evidence that different income levels and social statuses are associated with different levels of mortality, health, and morbidity (Wilkinson 161). Research, which Wilkinson cites, shows a direct dependence between people’s socio-economic position and health in all countries, including 582 cities where the studies were held (162). The list of countries consists of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, Italy, and many other European countries. Therefore, it is concluded that healthcare inequality depends on the economic situation and the person’s position in the social hierarchy of specific countries. According to Wilkinson, the greater the inequality is, the lower the life expectancy becomes (163). Thus, income distribution can reduce the death rates by eliminating the social-class differentiation and might be the right decision to stop spreading unfairness.

The research data and arguments that Wilkinson provides seem to be compelling enough to agree with his standpoint. The amount of income people receive in their country does not affect life expectancy as much as what they can purchase with this money. One can earn a thousand dollars in Israel, Great Britain, and Africa, but how they can use them is another matter. That is why the gap between rich and poor is so significant. People with lower incomes are often neglected in getting quality care, which causes even more decline in health. Hence, the more unsatisfactory physical conditions will deprive such people of the chance to maintain satisfactory living standards, and they will lose income all the more as a result. Besides, the United States is officially among the top seven countries global list based on the most considerable income inequality with a Gini coefficient of 0.36 (“Income Inequality”). Consequently, low health standards cannot but be affected by the wealth gap.

Nowadays, in the USA, the quality of health care and insurance provided is inevitably determined by income. The problem of economic inequality is closely connected to the issue of minorities. Racial and ethnic prejudice, which leads to immigrants having lower salaries, appears to be one of the leading causes of the population’s different insurance status and quality of care received (Carrasquillo and Torres 177). According to Carrasquillo and Torres, the “uninsured population in the United States that is minority has increased to 53 percent” (174). The limited access to insurance is a case due to its high costs. Moreover, low-income people, including minorities, are inclined to have lower insurance status and worse quality of care as a result. The researchers purport that having one universal system of insurance would eliminate health inequality in the country.

The idea of having a single-payer healthcare program appeals to a lot of people not indifferent to the healthcare inequality issue. It is also supported by Dr. Mary O’Brien, who depicts the dreadful cases in her career when poor people had no access to medical care because of the absence of monetary means (164). The data she relies on reports on more than 22 thousand people dying annually because of the insurance absence (O’Brien 165). According to the doctor, all people deserve equal opportunities to get high-quality care regardless of income level and social status.

Thus, the various issues concerning access to healthcare amount to the same thing – the income gap. However, some scholars believe that defying income inequality does not guarantee to eliminate healthcare disparities. According to Costa-Font and Cowell, other inequality sources, rather than income, are mainly neglected in the research (179). Socio-economic and income-related studies are solely used to determine healthcare inequality (Costa-Font and Cowell 183). Moreover, there is a strong link between sustainable policy orientation towards community development and equity in health and well-being. Public policies and social institutions shape health and health equity. The state’s policy and socio-economic strategy are responsible for improving every person’s health and well-being and reducing the gap in health status among the country’s population.

What is more, the policies that affect health and inequality besides income and social protection include some other factors. According to the World Health Organization, such factors are safe working conditions, early childhood development programs, equitable educational opportunities, improved housing conditions, and ecology (“Evidence and resources to act on health inequities”). Besides, human rights promotion and protection, for gender equality and minority rights, are of great importance. Thus, a targeted, comprehensive public health policy needs improved governance mechanisms and the development of institutional and civic capacities to address health inequities.

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Consequently, the income gap existing in developed societies is not the only reason for inequality in the healthcare system. Nevertheless, I tend to support Wilkinson’s perspective on the issue. Such blatant unfairness can be eliminated through the government’s policy towards income distribution. As a result, more people would get access to medical facilities and not feel neglected by the authorities.

To conclude, health is an inalienable right recorded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Every individual has the right to get access to medicine of the highest standards, and all social groups must be able to maintain the same level of health as the most privileged sectors of society. It means that people need to ensure equality in access to health care in their countries. Many scholars support the idea that social-class differentiation, mainly the wealth gap, is the fundamental obstacle. However, opinions are highlighting that the income factor is not the only one or main factor. There are such aspects as government policy on health care, proper human rights security, and access to health services with improved insurance policy. The importance of equality is an integral component of democracy, and various steps should be taken to eliminate it in various spheres.

Works Cited

Carrasquillo, Olveen, and Jaime Torres. “Reducing Health Care Disparities.” Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality, edited by David Cay Johnston, The New Press, 2015, pp. 173-179.

Costa-Font, Joan, and Frank Cowell. “Incorporating Inequality Aversion in Health-Care Priority Setting.” Social Justice Research, vol. 32, no. 2, 2019, pp. 172-185.

“Evidence and Resources to Act on Health Inequities, Social Determinants and Meet the SDGs.” World Health Organization, 2019, Web.

“Income Inequality.” The OECD, 2020, Web.

O’Brien, Mary E. “Unequal Quality of Care.” Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality, edited by David Cay Johnston, The New Press, 2015, pp. 165-172.

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Wilkinson, Richard. “Health and Income Inequalities Are Linked.” Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality, edited by David Cay Johnston, The New Press, 2015, pp. 161-163.

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