Poverty: It’s bad for your health

A big piece of health reform rhetoric — coming from multimillionaire CEOs — is the need for personal responsibility and healthy lifestyle choices.

This LA Times story today re-highlights what I thought was a long-established fact, poor women — many of whom happen to be minorities — suffer disproportionately from chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke etc.

The study notes that poverty and lack of insurance are complicit in causing these diseases in this population.

As health advocates, we know that the uninsured are twice as likely to forgo medical care and half as likely to fill prescriptions they need, causing their chronic conditions to get worse.

And as members of Congress and various others are learning this week in an empathy exercise, a $3-a-day food stamp allowance that as many as 26 million Americans live on is not enough to live healthy lives. Healthy fresh fruits and vegetables are perishable and more expensive, so what’s left is higher sodium, higher sugar, higher calorie foods.

If this emphasis on “healthy lifestyles” and “healthy choices” really is going to be a part of the reform debate, let’s be real about the “choices” that are out there for poor people. Will Safeway stop stocking up on potato chips and candy and offer discounts on fruits and vegetables? Will health insurers start eliminating copays and coinsurance to help people manage their chronic diseases?

Otherwise, there doesn’t really seem to be much of a choice.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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