Medicine for the One Percent

We always suspected this: a new study clearly shows that the richer you are, the longer you live in the US of America (Wall Street Journal). This is no small difference! The top 10% (richest) people live on average 10 years longer than the bottom 10% (poorest). Wow! And this is WITH medicare and medicaid, which the political right would have us get rid of all together.

What I would like to see are 2 things.

(1) A comparison with a similar study in civilized “1st world” countries (Canada, UK, Germany, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, etc.) with better health care coverage that covers the entire population.

(2) A historical comparison: an analysis of life expectancy relative to individual wealth 100 , 50, 20 and 10 years ago in the US. I would like to know whether we have made any progress, and whether (as I suspect) progress has been halted or even reversed.

It will take at least 10-50 years for the effects of Obamacare to show up in such a population wide analysis which measures death rates over many years. At present, only a comparison with other countries can tell us something.

Here is a partial response to my question (2) from the article itself which looks at least at 2 different historical time points: 1920 versus 1940.  For men there has been an improvement in longevity (5.9% for the richest men and 1.7% for the poorest men).  For women the change in longevity is 3.1% for the richest women.  But the poorest women actually live less long -2.1%.    This means that if you are a poor woman, you actually would have been better off being born in 1920  rather than in 1940!  That is a stunning fact.  It is the reverse of progress.

change in life expect


About D. Posnett MD

Emeritus Prof. of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College
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2 Responses to Medicine for the One Percent

  1. my friend writes:
    Hi, David.
    I have been an in-patient at Weill-Cornell since March where I had serious abdominal surgery. Recovery has been slow– and I have had access to only few hospital resources to assist me (e.g. Staff to help me walk to increase mobility and gain strength). However, these services are available through a privately paid fee — and the NYPH website boasts a 40 per cent boost in recovery time by using them. Best M

  2. Janet Van Sickle says:

    Hi David:
    The rich live longer perhaps, but certainly with better possibilities for good health, not least of which is diet and access to non-covered care like massage therapy, relaxed vacations, naturopathic and all kinds of alternative health providers. They get the best hearing aids and dental care and eyeglasses and many other necessities for the elderly. Longevity is not really what matters, it’s the quality of life that counts.
    I would be astonished if the quality of life for the elderly rich is not better in every country in the world, than that of the aged poor.

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