America’s Healthcare System Favors the Rich, Study Shows

A British medical journal blames America’s for-profit healthcare system for a 15-year gap in longevity

In a blistering indictment of the American healthcare system, the British Medical Journal Lancet published a study in April that looked at income inequality in relation to the nation’s health. The results showed that the wealthiest Americans live a full 15 years longer than their poorer counterparts. And, the researchers say, the main reason for this disparity is America’s for-profit healthcare system, which places insurance company profits ahead of human health.

young African American women holds baby in doctor's office accessing healthcare

Poor single mothers of young children are often hardest hit by healthcare costs.
(Credit: americanmagazine.org)

The study compared health outcomes in the context of socioeconomic status, reports the Guardian. In addition to the 15-year gap in longevity that exists between the country’s richest and poorest 1 percent, it also showed how poverty impacts Americans’ access to quality care. Some of the most telling findings include:

-More than one-third of America’s poor choose not to get medical care because of the cost. By comparison, just 7 percent of Canadians and 1 percent of people in the United Kingdom say that cost is a barrier to care.

-The poorest 20 percent of Americans pay nearly twice as much for healthcare as a share of income as the richest 20 percent (6 percent versus 3.2 percent).

-Health outcomes are worst for the poorest of the poor. For example, in women born between 1930 and 1960, the poorest 20 percent lived four years less than those whose incomes were in the top 20 percent.

Further, all of these things have occurred against a backdrop of widening income inequality, the report says. Since 1970, the percentage of America’s earnings going to the top 1 percent has more than doubled. This makes America’s income disparity the third largest in the developed world.

Healthcare as a Human Right

The answer to the growing disparity is simple, say the study authors. Treat healthcare as a human right. In an editorial accompanying the report, Senate Democrat Bernie Sanders put it bluntly: “Healthcare is not a commodity,” he said. “The goal of a healthcare system should be to keep people well, not to make stockholders rich.” 

Sanders and the authors of the study support a single-payer government system of healthcare dubbed “Medicare for all.”

“Making sure that every citizen has the right to childcare, healthcare, a college education, and secure retirement is not a radical idea,” Sanders added. “It is as American as apple pie.”

Chart showing barriers to healthcare US

But Republicans, who currently control Congress, bitterly oppose Sanders’ plan. And according to Robert Moffit, a researcher at the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, single-payer government healthcare wouldn’t work. “I mean look – you can save money with a single-payer system, don’t misunderstand me,” he said. “But the quality and supply of medical services is going to be determined by government officials,” he claims.

Yet, as Sanders points out, America already has “the most expensive, bureaucratic, wasteful, and ineffective healthcare system in the world.”

Future Uncertain

Nevertheless, at this juncture, the possibility of any meaningful, positive changes to America’s healthcare system seems very small. The Affordable Care Act, former President Obama’s signature achievement, made a sizeable dent in the number of uninsured, whose numbers dropped from nearly 50 million to just under 30 million between 2010 and 2015.

But in the wake of the new administration’s failed attempt to “repeal and replace” the ACA, the future is far from clear. In fact, as recently as April 13, President Trump signaled his willingness to stop government subsidies to insurers in order to force a political compromise on a healthcare bill. Should this happen, millions of  Americans will undoubtedly see increased premiums, greater cost-sharing and greater healthcare disparity nationwide.

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