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Health Disparities in America

Healthcare in America is a hit-or-miss depending on factors predetermined before a patient even seeks out medical treatment.  The ability to pay, high cost of medicine, and lack of programs aimed at low-income but working individuals are situations that influence people’s decisions to seek medical care.  The lack of a universal healthcare program further defines why America continues to fall behind globally.  Lasser, Himmelstein, & Woolhandler (2006) writes, “US residents reported more problems obtaining care than their peers in 4 other English speaking countries” (par. #1).  The greatest factor defining the countries in question seems to be their access to universal healthcare as well as the United States lack of it. By studying how a universal healthcare program affects costs and overall improvement of health, it would provide valuable data on how the program would affect specific socioeconomic groups who currently do not have access to medical treatment.  By analyzing the income status, racial background, and access to healthcare, the medical community will identify and study underlying factors that will promote a the need for a universal health care program.

Income has long been one of the greatest factors in whether a person gets medical care.  Low wages, high medical costs, and lack of universal healthcare have been predictors for medical care. According to the Economic Policy Institute, a minimum wage worker in the United States today earns $14,962 which is about $4,000 less than in 1968 (2009). More than twenty million workers receive minimum wage benefits, and the cost of living primarily consumes their income because of the high costs of rent, utilities, and groceries.  Adding in an additional $5,000 a year makes healthcare a secondary concern to Americans barely affording to live.  President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders have actively pushed for a universal program.  However, Republicans continually uses the lack of data to suggest that a program such as this would be ineffective.  Collecting and using such data to implement programs would suggest to all Americans that healthcare is a primary need just as important as the household bills. Also, identifying the racial groups individually would further break down how costs and universal care would improve or prolong life expectancy.

Table 1: Comparison of Medical Expenses between 1950 and 2005 from data collected from Your money or your life: Strong medicine for America’s health care system

Year 1950 2005
Yearly Cost $500

(Per Person)

$5000

(Per Person)

Gross Domestic Product 4% GDP 15% GDP

(Cutler, 2005, p. 4)

Race in America has had little attention from medical care experts because groups targeted diseases instead of the races who were experiencing them. The article Race, socioeconomic status, and health: Complexities, ongoing challenges, and research opportunities say, “The routine reports of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) provide life expectancy data only for blacks and whites” (Williams, Mohammed, Leavell, and Collins, 2010).  By looking at the two groups, it signifies that data is lacking for other major races.  Furthermore, current data may be inaccurate as Hispanics are often labeled as White, and those who are of mixed races are defined as solely of one race.  When a misclassification occurs, medical staff miss important indicators such as what diseases the patient may be a candidate.

Funding and the availability of medical treatment to lower income families suggest that access is also an important disparity in healthcare.  Lack of medical treatment facilities and doctors who accept federally funded programs are also indications as to why people do not have access.  Many medical providers will not work long hours for less pay, so it affects the amount of doctors available for certain demographic locations which have high public assistance rates.  Additional problems that diminish access is cuts to federal programs aimed at helping disadvantaged people.   Women and children normally receive care before men even when a more serious condition exists. The social implications of who is seen are left to states as to who receives benefits, and gender has been a deciding factor because, historically, society identified women and children less capable of paying for services than men.  Because these stereotypes exist, men often do not get the medical care they need.  In the first part of the twentieth-century, the elderly received the attention of the medical community because of a rise in chronic diseases. However, little emphasis was put on other groups, and the data was lacking as to how to best address their needs.  Medical experts are now seeing a decline in certain demographics, and data on their race, class, and availability could have been predictors to many of the health issues society has today.

Costs, race, and availability seems to indicate that a universal healthcare system would be effective based on medical need rather than race (or gender), class, or availability.  Because experts are now looking at the implementation of the partial universal program under President Obama, data is beginning to show that the program is working because millions of people now have access.  The data can be compared to states who are not participating to predict the effectiveness of a universal program across the country. By using cost factors, racial identity of those affected, and the improvement of health between those who did and did not have healthcare, it will provide definitive proof of how these areas have affected the overall health of the nation.  But, more importantly, it will indicate either a positive or negative outlook for future medical care in America.

 

 

 

References

Cutler, D. M. (2005). Your money or your life: Strong medicine for America’s health care system. Oxford University Press.

Shierholz, H. (2009).  FIX IT AND FORGET IT Index the Minimum Wage to Growth in Average Wages.  Economic Policy Institute.  Retrieved on July 23, 2016, http://epi.3cdn.net/91fd33f4e013307415_rum6iydua.pdf.

Lasser, K. E., Himmelstein, D. U., & Woolhandler, S. (2006). Access to care, health status, and health disparities in the United States and Canada: results of a cross-national population-based survey. American journal of public health,96(7), 1300-1307.

Williams, D. R., Mohammed, S. A., Leavell, J. and Collins, C. (2010), Race, socioeconomic status, and health: Complexities, ongoing challenges, and research opportunities. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,

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