Thursday, March 27, 2008

Gap in Life Expectancy Widens for the Nation

Once more we are reminded of the healthcare crisis that we have here in the United States. In an article in the March 23, 2008 edition of The New York Times, the author states that: “New government research has found ‘large and growing’ disparities in life expectancy for richer and poorer Americans, paralleling the growth of income inequality in the last two decades.”

According to the article, from 1966 to 1980, the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor actually decreased. It is not surprising that this same period saw the creation of Medicaid and Medicare, the growth of community health centers, the “war on poverty,” and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to Dr. Singh, a demographer at the Department of Health and Human Resources, the wealthiest Americans could be expected to live 2.4 years longer than those in the most impoverished groups (75.8 years vs. 73 years). By 1998 to 2000, this gap had widened to 4.5 years (79.2 years vs. 74.7 years), and it continues to grow. Even more alarming, the contrast between certain groups was much wider. The difference between poor black men and affluent white women was 14 years (66.9 years vs. 81.1 years).

Several reasons were given for this wide difference in life expectancy between rich and poor. One of the reasons cited was that lower income people were less likely to have health insurance. This meant that they were less likely to receive checkups, diagnostic tests and screenings, prescriptions, and adequate treatment. It is not uncommon to hear stories of patients cutting their pills in half because they can’t afford their prescription medications.

This disparity in health care should not exist in a wealthy country like the United States. Not only has the cost of medical care, hospitalization, and prescription drugs risen steeply, but health insurance has become unaffordable unless you are either wealthy or work for a large company.

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