Want to Live Longer? Be Rich

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You probably already know that health care in the United States is a bit of a disaster. That’s one of the primary reasons a single piece of bad luck can be ruinous for so many Americans. But you might not be aware of just how bad the American health-care system is, or the profound toll it has taken on people — particularly people who lack the resources to buy solid insurance.

Summing up a series of new studies on American health care in The Lancet, the Guardian’s Jessica Glenza explains that the authors found that, “Increasing inequality means wealthy Americans can now expect to live up to 15 years longer than their poor counterparts.” She runs down some of the other grisly details in a very depressing paragraph:

Among the studies’ key findings: the richest 1% live up to 15 years longer than the poorest 1%; the same gap in life expectancy widened in recent decades, making poverty a powerful indicator for death; more than one-third of low-income Americans avoid medical care because of costs (compared to 7% in Canada and 1% in the UK); the poorest fifth of Americans pay twice as much for healthcare as a share of income (6% for the poor, versus 3.2% for the rich); and life expectancy would have grown 51.1% more from 1983 to 2005 had mass incarceration not accelerated in the mid-1980s.

All these numbers are strikingly terrible, but the one about avoiding medical care really stands out. After all, if you need to see a doctor but don’t, there’s a solid chance whatever problem you’re experiencing will balloon into something bigger, more dangerous, and more expensive. It’s not an accident that the percentages are so much lower in Canada and the U.K., both of which have single-payer programs.

That’s not to say these programs are perfect, of course — the U.K.’s National Health Service has some serious problems — but both Canadians and Brits can simply go to the doctor when they need to (albeit sometimes after a bit of a wait), without having to worry about going bankrupt or spending hours arguing with insurance companies. This is a very basic feature of modern life in most wealthy countries, and it’s insane that it eludes the U.S.

Want to Live Longer? Be Rich