What price of reducing health inequalities? £31,000

In developed economies, such as the U.K., this study once again highlights the value and effectiveness of state healthcare programmes.
Health data 480 (2)
Health data Photo by NEC Corporation of America with Creative Commons license.

They say money can't buy you happiness, but it can make you healthier even if you are not a high earner according to a new study of the relationship between income and income related health inequalities from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The large-scale analysis of data from 70 countries around the world, published in the journal Social Indicators Research,  found that health inequalities, the differences in health status between different population groups, change in line with income, but only until people reached the threshold of $38,700 (£30,900).

When nations reach this average income level, they are more likely to witness a tailing off in the reduction of health inequalities, according to Dr Joan Costa-i-Font of the Department of Social Policy at LSE and his co-authors.

The authors tested for the relationship between individual self-reported health levels and average country income — measured as GDP per capita (a measure of average income per person in a country). Overall, income-related health inequalities were found to rise alongside increases in GDP per capita, but to tail off once a threshold level of economic development — which the researchers place at between $26,000 (£20,800) and $38,700 (£30,900)-had been reached.

The report highlights the value of universal health coverage system, such as the NHS, which aims to minimise the financial barriers to health care for low-income earners, and plays a key role in reducing health inequalities. Collectivised healthcare reduces the cost of accessing health care by creating larger risk pools, and encourages access to preventive health care.

The study also suggests that some degree of economic development is needed if countries are to lower health inequalities. Democratic governments are more likely to try to reduce income inequalities, and are more likely to set up collective health insurance systems, the researchers argue. 

Dr Joan Costa-i-Font, Associate Professor in the Department of Social Policy, said: “Reducing health inequalities requires investment. Typically in lower income countries, this is focused on improving overall health, rather than reducing health disparities. But it seems that economic development, when fairly distributed and acting in tandem with collectivised healthcare, also reduces income related inequalities in health, and improves health outcomes for the largest number of people.

“For developing countries, an immediate policy implication is to insure the financial costs of healthcare are shared, in order to then focus on targeted interventions that advance the effect of evenly distributed economic development, which could also help reduce income-related health inequalities.

“In developed economies, such as the U.K., this study once again highlights the value and effectiveness of state healthcare programmes. These healthcare systems typically reflect both the degree of economic development, and ensure that as many people in the population have access to high-quality healthcare as possible.”

The research supports earlier studies in developed and developing nations which show that an economic resources influence their capacity to produce health.

The study used the World Health Survey and the European Community Household Panel survey datasets, containing a representative sample population collected from 70 countries around the world and was published in Social Indicators Research.

Behind the article

A health 'Kuznets' curve'? Cross-section and longitudinal evidence on concentration indices by Joan Costa-Font, Cristina Hernández-Quevedo, and Azusa Sato was published in Social Indicators Research (2017). pp. 1-14. ISSN 0303-8300.