Health

A Look at Health Inequalities in the United States

Why are we still talking about this in 2021 in a developed country like the USA? Read on to find out.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has been nothing but brutal, it has helped shed renewed light on health inequalities in the USA. The once overlooked issue is now back to making news headlines as disadvantaged groups in the country continue to report higher Covid-19 infection rates and severe symptoms. But what are health inequalities? Why are we still talking about this in 2021 in a developed country like the USA? Read on to find out.

What are Health Inequalities?

Commonly referred to as health disparities, health inequalities refer to the unjust yet avoidable differences in healthcare distribution and healthcare resources between specific populations. These differences stem from broader social, economic, and in some instances, environmental disadvantages. These inequalities are immoral and counteract the principles of social justice.

Causes of Health Inequalities in America

Lack of health insurance is among the top reasons why America has such a high health inequality rate. Although we have the federal government and state-supported health programs that offer coverage like Medicare and Medicaid, these programs mainly offer assistance to specific populations. As a result, most of the population depends on corporate-sponsored insurance plans or goes without one.

Besides lack of insurance, other causes of health inequalities in America include:

  • Rising healthcare costs
  • Poverty
  • Poor health

Common Forms of Health Inequalities in the USA

Although the USA is among the most developed countries globally, we severely lack in matters healthcare. And to give you an idea of how bad it is, here are the existing health inequalities in the USA:

Racial and Ethnic Inequality

Racial and ethnic inequalities refer to the benefits and the shortcomings whole population groups experience due to their perceived race or ethnic backgrounds. Despite increased awareness, health inequalities spurred by race and ethnicity are still quite rampant in 2021.

These health inequalities stem from decades of systemic barriers in the American healthcare system. Studies and surveys conducted over the years show that people of color are usually less likely to have a reliable healthcare source than whites. Even when they have access, quality care is not always guaranteed because their practitioners are overwhelmed by high patient volumes or under-resourced medical facilities.

Unfortunately, racial and ethnic-related health inequalities result in trivial rates of morbidity and mortality among these groups. For instance, although African-American women have a lower incidence rate of breast cancer, they’re 41% more likely to die from the condition than white women.

Socioeconomic Status Inequality

An individual’s socioeconomic status can be defined as the sociologic and the economic circumstances (income, education, etc.) that influence their way of life.

High-income earners in America generally have access to better healthcare than low-income earners and are usually more appealing patients to healthcare professionals, especially in the private sector. For instance, in a study where phone calls were made to medical practitioners, approximately 22% of participants who pretended to be from high socioeconomic backgrounds got an appointment — only 14% of the participants presented as low socioeconomic status patients got one.

Also, because they have access to high-quality education, Americans with a high socioeconomic status learn and avoid unhealthy habits from an early age. This reduces their likelihood of contracting lifestyle-related ailments such as lung cancer and diabetes.

Sexual Orientation Health Inequalities

Despite the increased acceptance and the ever-increasing number of Americans who identify as LGBT, health inequalities arising from their sexual orientation are still common. According to studies, lesbians are 96% more likely to succumb to a stroke, while gays are 39% more susceptible to getting a heart disease diagnosis than their heterosexual counterparts.

Structural barriers in our healthcare system mainly cause the disparity. For instance, most gay and bisexual men fail to seek medical care because they have trouble finding healthcare providers they can trust.

Other than structural barriers, health inequalities among LGBT Americans stem from the community itself. For instance, most lesbians consider themselves a low-risk group for STIs, consequently exposing themselves to conditions like Chlamydia and syphilis.

Sex Inequalities

Health inequalities in the USA aren’t always a result of systemic barriers. Sometimes, they’re due to behavioral risks, societal and cultural stereotypes. For instance, men have a typically reduced life expectancy than women in the U.S. because they’re more likely to partake in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and drinking. Also, due to societal and cultural stereotypes, men usually take on potentially hazardous jobs than women, exposing them to conditions that affect how fast their health declines.

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