Thursday, September 08, 2011

A Twist on Income Inequality & Health

A multitude of studies has found an association between income inequality and health; that is, in places where there is less of a gap between rich and poor, people tend to be healthier and live longer.

Now there's a study that adds a twist. The study sought to explain why health care costs more in the United States than in other countries. The researchers concluded that physicians in the U.S. get paid substantially more than physicians in other countries and it is that difference in fees, rather than factors such as the amount of health care people get, that explains much of the differences in health care spending.

Here's where income inequality comes in. The researchers compared doctor salaries to the range of incomes in certain countries. One conclusion:
"High physician fees in the United States may reflect the cost of attracting skilled candidates to medicine in a society with a relatively more skewed income distribution."
In other words, since high income earners in the US do so much better than the average person here, doctors expect to get similarly big paychecks compared to people doing other jobs. In countries where there is less of a gap between the salaries of CEOs and line workers, doctors earn less on average... and that means health care doesn't cost as much.

When we debate health, the discussion often seems narrowly focused on what pills or procedures are available, or what's cooking in medical research labs. But medical science and clinical skills are not the whole story. This latest report illuminates one more way in which other factors, such as income inequality, influence health care and health.

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