A new study in Toronto shows how socioeconomic status can have a significant impact on your access to health care. The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, examined whether patients who identified themselves as either a bank employee or a welfare recipient (implying that they had a high or low income) were able to find a family doctor in Toronto.
The study found that higher income people were over 50 percent more likely to be offered an appointment than lower income people. This is significant because research shows that lower income people are more likely to experience poor health than those with higher income. In our work on social assistance reform we showed that in Ontario:
- Over three times as many people in the lowest income group report their health to be only poor or fair than in the highest income group;
- Five times as many men and three times as many women in the lowest income group report their mental health to be only poor or fair than the highest income group;
- People in the lowest income neighbourhoods have significantly higher rates of probable depression and hospitalization for depression than those from the highest income neighbourhoods;
- The percentage of people with diabetes or heart disease is three to five times higher in the lowest income group than the highest income group.
These differences have a significant impact over the course of people’s lives. In Toronto, life expectancy is 4.5 years less for men in the lowest income group versus the highest and 2.0 years for women.
There was some good news in the study: people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes were more likely to get an appointment than someone without. This is positive as it shows that people with greater health care needs are being prioritized for access to primary care.
Barriers to health care and good health are significant for many marginalized populations. We have blogged about the barriers faced by Aboriginal Canadians in accessing health care owing to racism and stereotyping and in 2012 our Colour Coded Health Care report showed the impact of bias and discrimination in health care delivery.
Health inequities – differences in health outcomes that are avoidable, unfair and systematically related to social inequality and disadvantage – can be reduced and eliminated. The Wellesley Institute has a range of resources that help to identify and avoid potential health inequities and to enhance opportunities for marginalized populations.