It is a well-known public health axiom that health status is strongly related to economic status, both between countries and within countries. Study after study has documented that socioeconomic status is a fundamental “cause” of health, and is the most important of multiple factors that determine health status. Some epidemiologists have listed “income inequality…as a health hazard.” The anticipated impact of undoing the Affordable Care Act on millions of Americans brings even sharper importance to this much-proven axiom.
Recent data published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation of the University of Washington brings it all into focus at our local level. In Albemarle County, with a poverty rate of only 10%, the life expectancy for females is 83.1 years and for males, 79.9 years. In neighboring Buckingham County, with a poverty rate of 23%, the life expectancy for females is 79.1 years and for males, 74.1 years. That’s a cost of 4-6 years of life! Wise County, who’s poverty rate is 21.4%, has a female life expectancy of 74.8 years and a male life expectancy of 70.9 years. Their loss of longevity is 8-9 years! Income inequality has a real life impact on health, even here in Virginia with superlative medical care facilities.
How many of us would be satisfied with a needless (possibly preventable) loss of almost a decade of our life, or even a half decade? In the therapy of some life threatening illnesses, such as cancer, a gain of 8-9 years of life is considered successful therapy worthy of very expensive interventions. Yet the loss of that much in our less affluent neighbors is eminently permissible? I hope not!
The Senate, in repairing the damage done by the House, must consider the impact of income inequality on life itself, especially as it relates to the emerging alterations to the Affordable Care Act.