Economics and income has always had a huge impact on health. Case in point: In a 2007 study released by the Economics Policy Institute, research showed that Social Security receiving males at age 60 had an average of 6 years more life expectancy if their income was in the top half of earnings distributions vs. those in the bottom half. This means that they would live an average of 23% longer! But personal income levels aren’t the only monetary influencer of health these days.
Since 1999, health care premiums have increased an average of $1,600 annually per family. In the last decade, medical cost inflation has increased 50%, while wages have increased by only 31%, and overall inflation has gone up 27%. Medical cost inflation is far outpacing wage and overall inflation and as a result, medical benefits are being reduced. But what does this really mean for the health of our country?
Economic Impacts on your Health: The Vicious Health Care Inflation Cycle
As medical benefits take a hit, everyone is seemingly cutting back on their visits to the doctor. Often times, people may let a nagging, yet seemingly non-life threatening issue run its course versus seeking immediate treatment for it. Here’s how the cycle seems to play out:
- Medical expense inflation outpaces all other inflation
- Medical insurers adjust their premiums to pass along the cost to employers and individuals in order to maintain or increase profitability levels
- Employers pass along the expense to employees and independently insured have no choice but to absorb premium increases (also in order to maintain profitability levels)
- Employees or those that purchase insurance independently increase their deductible limits to offset the cost of higher premiums
- As a result of higher deductibles, everyone visits the doctor less often
- The health of the nation declines as seemingly minor issues become major ones due to lack of medical attention
Recessionary Impacts on Health
Unfortunately, the current recession has resulted in more employers cutting back on health care benefits, or simply cutting people altogether. All this at a time when people are working harder and are more stressed out than maybe they’ve ever been. Do you think we need to seek medical treatment less than we did a year ago?
Economic Impacts on Food Selection
Research has shown that those in lower income brackets tend to eat much less healthy food than those further up the income scale. Healthy whole-grain bread is replaced by Wonderbread, juice is replaced by soda, Whole Foods is replaced by Wal Mart, Olive Garden is replaced Burger King. This is partly due to lower educational levels for those in lower income brackets and the corresponding lack of knowledge on how to eat healthy, but mostly due to the fact that it’s all that they can afford.
Economic Impacts on Exercise
A recent study done by AARP showed that 35% of people from households under $25,000 said they were physically active on a regular basis for a year or more, according to 1,011 people aged 18 and older. This compares to 51% of people from households with income between $25,000 to $49,999 and 60% of people from households with income levels over $75,000.
If you don’t have money, a gym membership or home equipment most likely are going to be a casualties. Unfortunately, exercise tends to be a luxury for those that have all the other basics covered first – food, shelter, heat, water, transportation, etc.
Economic Impact on Your Health Discussion
How are current personal income and larger economic factors impacting your health?
- If you lost your job, would you cut your gym membership?
- If your income was cut in half, would you eat as healthy as you currently are?
- If your employer doubled your premium and you had to raise your deductibles, would you visit the doctor as often?