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Why are wealthy people living up to nine years longer?

When looking a the relationship between health and success, medical inequalities are something I knew I had to cover. The wealthiest men and women can expect to live an additional eight to nine years free from disability compared to people in the poorest groups.

What I’ve learned so far about the positive relationship between health, wealth and happiness makes healthcare systems crucial to the success of individuals and communities.

Looking at the healthcare system in my home country, the US this week has opened my eyes to my own privilege and taught me about the consequences incurred when a healthcare system values profits over people.

Why I love hospitals

I’ve never had a bad experience with a hospital, but I’m aware people reading this have, and although I’m currently an outlier in my love of hospitals, I know this will likely change for me one day.

Why do I love hospitals? One of my favourite memories as a kid was being in a hospital after getting a heat stroke during summer camp. The reclining beds, the ice cream, the jello, the unlimited TV. Hospital and heaven start with the letter h. Coincidence? I think not (although hell starts with the letter h too, I’m choosing to ignore that).

To little me, the hospital was better than a five-star hotel, and I remember when my parents got the bill it almost cost as much as one. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where my mom received private health insurance covered by her work at the time. A lot of people in the United States aren’t so lucky.

Jeopardy question: The USA is ranked highest for their healthcare *blank*?

This week as I explored the health inequalities I looked at the cost per country vs. the success of the actual system. The lists I looked at were varied and inconsistent, but two trends emerged:

  1. The USA was constantly in the top 5 for the average price

  2. The USA was nowhere in the top 10 list for average quality

If people leave US hospitals alive, the debt they incur is substantial. The average hospital stay is 4.6 days. At an average cost of $2,873 a day, that’s $13,215.80, which is over seven months rent for the average American, however wealthy people spend more on average than less wealthy people on healthcare - despite being healthier.

Why are wealthy people spending more if they're healthier?

A study from Harvard showed the upper class in America is spending more on healthcare. A CNBC article on the study said:

“The rich in the United States — despite being healthier on average than the poor — have become the biggest buyers of health care, a dramatic shift in spending patterns across income groups, according to a new Harvard study.

“‘If rich people had to wait in line for an MRI like everyone else,’ one doctor told me, ‘the American healthcare system would be changed overnight.’” - Rex Weiner

The study also reveals that the poor — who as a group have more health needs and live shorter lives than higher income groups — in recent years have become the group with the lowest spending per capita, after decades of being the biggest spenders.”

Wealthy people are spending the additional money on the best doctors, nutritionists, physio therapists to keep themselves healthy. It's understandable, but because they are also treated as priority patients, this means, the people who need healthcare the most - aren’t the ones getting it.

Problem debt: the silent killer

Although less wealthy people are spending less, the money they are spending is a higher proportion of their income and is generally in lump sums due to emergencies. My dad always said, “Most people in this country are just one disaster away from losing everything.” All it takes is one unlucky fall to be cast into debt, and if you happen to pass away in the hospital, the bills fall to your assets meaning the hospital takes money from your family. Imagine grieving and then finding out you can’t even cover the costs of a funeral.

Fifty percent of Americans now carry medical debt according to Forbes. Bernie Sanders stated 500,000 people go bankrupt because of hospital bills and medical expenses in the USA every year. This statistic is flawed, but the data does show hospital and medical expenses contribute to bankruptcies and problem debt.

The fundamental purpose of health care is to “enhance the quality of life by enhancing health.” The US Healthcare system is failing to meet its purpose by putting people into substantial debt. Problem debt comes with its own set of issues and is a contributor to poor mental and physical health. Problem debt even contributes to suicide rates. It is devastating that people are overcoming and surviving life-threatening situations only to wish they were dead after.

Is there anything you can do?

Wealthy people are living longer because they can pay to have access to the best experts giving them care and advice. The US Healthcare system is polarised in cost and quality, and for less wealthy Americans is costing lives or the quality of them. So what can you do?

I know living costs are high, and putting aside that money is hard, but the best way to try to make sure this isn’t you if you live in the USA is to make sure you have some sort of health insurance. If you’re an employer reading this, and care about the welfare and happiness of your employees, try and make sure they have health insurance.

Other advice if you can’t do that is to make sure you have a plan if something happens to you, whether that’s looking into low-interest health care loans, learning how to negotiate your medical bills or setting aside money in a rainy day savings account if you don’t want to pay an insurance firm.

Enjoyed this post?

Thanks for reading. Hope you learned something new you can use to get you closer to happiness. Next week we’ll be exploring the exercise routines of successful people.

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