Monday, August 13, 2012

Wealth and Health

We have known for twenty-five years that neo-conservative economic policies produce extreme income inequality. Now a report by the Canadian Medical Association makes clear that the same policies have led to health inequality. The CBC reports that :

The gap in self-reported health status between income groups seems to be growing, with 39 per cent of those whose households earned less than $30,000 a year describing their health as excellent or very good compared with 68 per cent of those earning $60,000 or more.

"When it comes to the well-being of Canadians, the old saying that wealth equals health continues to ring true," Dr. John Haggie, president of the CMA, said in a release.

"What is particularly worrisome for Canada's doctors is that in a nation as prosperous as Canada, the gap between the 'haves' and 'have nots' appears to be widening."

The late Tommy Douglas discovered as a child that the wealthy had much better health care than the poor. It was the gap in care which energized his commitment to public health care in Saskatchewan and eventually every province in Canada.

We have known for a long time that wealth buys better health. But we have assumed that Medicare solved that problem. The truth is that, as wealth has trickled up to the top, the poor have paid a medical price:

Those with the lowest incomes were also more likely to report being diagnosed with a chronic condition, 41 per cent, than those with household incomes of $60,000 or more, 28 per cent.

Everyday, in every way, life gets better for the wealthy. But, for the vast majority of Canadians, it gets worse.


Beijing York said...

Interesting that social welfare played a more important role in federal responsibility for health in the past. There was an understanding that the standards of living correlated with standards of health. From the Canadian Encyclopedia:

"Originally created in 1919 as the Department of Health, and merged with the Department of Soldiers' Civil Re-establishment to form the Department of Pensions and National Health in 1928, the Department of National Health and Welfare was established in 1944. It became the Department of Health, or Health Canada, in June 1993."

Anonymous said...

Let's reconsider what is being argued here, that annual incomes are causally connected to good or poor health.
No less an intellect than Aristotle maintained that cause and effect doesn't exist (to this day, nobody has ever proven there is such a mysterious "force"). He suggested instead it's a "ghost", a mere notion, and that what we consider cause and effect is really coincidence. Events occur together by chance. In his opinion, the strongest case one can make when one phenomenon appears to have been caused by another, is that the second event APPEARS to have been caused by the first.
We should be hesitant about pointing at the gap between incomes as the reason for the poor's lesser quality of health. It's an even greater stretch of logic to claim that government policies which widen that gap will cause even poorer health amongst lower income recipients.
Instead, let's take a broader view or the problem and ask if, aside from their lower incomes, there may be other characteristics which lower income earners share and which might have a coincidental bearing upon their health.
I'm sure if you really put your mind to it, you could come up with a few credible ideas.

Owen Gray said...

That was the old Canada, Bejiing -- the Canada that Stephen Harper despises.

In the old Canada, it was axiomatic that we were all in this together. In Harper's "reformed" Canada, it's every man and woman for him or herself.

Owen Gray said...

It has been demonstrated for decades that poor people have more health problems than wealthy people. Lots of things contribute to the gap -- eating habits, hygiene, poor education.

But, surely, it's not too much of a stretch to believe that if more people are driven into poverty, more of those people will have health problems. They simply cannot afford to eat well, to remain hygenic or to study as productively as the wealthy can.

When governments actively pursue policies which add to the poverty roles, there are societal consequences. Poor public health is one of them.

Aristotle may not have recognized cause and effect. But drinking that hemlock had the expected outcome.

Owen Gray said...

Sometimes you only recognize a mistake the morning after. When I woke up this morning, I knew I got it wrong.

I should have written: "Aristotle may not have recognized cause and effect. But when his hero -- Socrates -- drank that hemlock, it resulted in the expected outcome."