Blog posts

Inequality in Healthcare

By Dr. Teeb Al-Samarrai

Leading up to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, each year, I am reminded of his quote, “of all the forms of inequality and injustice, healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane” and try to measure how far we’ve come and how much further we have to go.  The Affordable Care Act was an enormous victory but the inequalities and growing economic and social disparities in our country are an indication of how much more work there is to do.

We all recognize the gaping inequalities of our healthcare system.  Unequal healthcare results from unequal access and unequal wealth. In Alameda County, California where I live, the Alameda County Public Health Department has prepared a short primer, “Economic Inequality: A Growing Threat to Public Health” which outlines the widening economic gaps in the Alameda County, California, and the US which I encourage everyone to read.  They also cite some of the work of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett who developed an index of “health and social problems” which included life expectancy, infant mortality, homicide, teenage births, imprisonment, obesity, trust, mental illness, social mobility, and math and literacy which showed that health social problems were worse in countries with greater inequality. The US has the greatest economic inequality and the worst health and social outcomes compared to similar countries. The economic and health divisions are even worse when we look at racial divisions.

There isn’t a lack of evidence for these persistent and arguably worse disparities than existed during MLK’s life time and spawned the civil rights movement. As we celebrate a day Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy and perhaps even a day off I will also be thinking about how these divisions and inequalities can be remedied.   As he said, “Life’s most persistent urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

As physicians, we are constantly doing for others but we also need to be actively engaged in the communities we serve.  I hope to find a way to learn more about my community next week and throughout this year. As the Alameda County Public Health Department suggests on its website, maybe we should begin with the Day of Service and find a volunteer opportunity through United We Serve or maybe elsewhere? There are some amazing organizations in our communities, how does your clinic, hospital, or university engage with them? We should all ask ourselves, what will I be doing to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. and carry his vision forward this weekend and this year?

 Editor's Note: "Doctors for America is launching a year-long public education campaign -- the One Million Campaign -- on the National Day of Service. This is a year-long campaign where physicians and medical students around the country will make sure the public understands the truth and true benefits of the Affordable Care Act.  If can be in Washington DC on Monday morning, come be a part of the national launch!  If you're doing a local service event, we will have fliers and materials to hand out to people to get them educated!"

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