We’ve all heard people say something like, “American healthcare is the best in the world.” The seemingly never-ending debate over the Affordable Care Act and the government’s role in providing health insurance means the quality of healthcare is more relevant than ever before. The fact is, America is much better at some aspects of healthcare than it is at others. We do well in medical research and pharmaceutical development. Pharmaceutical companies are now benefitting from Pharmaceutical Systems Solutions that help them in their day to day tasks. When it comes to affordability and accessibility, though, there’s some definite work to be done. In large part, the quality of healthcare you receive depends on where you live.
Rural versus urban
Perhaps not surprisingly, people who live in highly-populated areas generally fare better than those in more rural areas. The care disparities in rural areas are more pronounced for people living in poverty, those without insurance, and Black and Latinx populations. Children in rural areas are less likely to be educated on the importance of healthy eating habits and exercise, and they’re also less likely to be warned against the dangers of smoking. That may explain why rural areas have higher smoking rates, although they also have higher rates of both suicide and opioid misuse. It’s so bad that there’s a life expectancy gap between rural and metro areas, one that researchers say has widened over time.
Let’s think about a densely populated state like New Jersey. Residents who encounter a health crisis in New Jersey have more options than those dealing with a major health challenge in a place like Wyoming. A Garden State resident with a breast cancer diagnosis can take advantage of New Jersey state-of-the-art treatments and cancer care services. Northern New Jersey residents can head to New York City for additional treatment, while South Jersey residents can head to Philadelphia. There are less than 600,000 people in the entire state of Wyoming, while 9 million people live in New Jersey. A resident of Cheyenne, Wyoming might have to drive 100 miles to seek care in Denver, Colorado. Rural hospitals do exist but often have trouble staying afloat.
Population isn’t all that matters, though. If it did, then California would be number one in every healthcare category, and that simply isn’t the case. A WalletHub analysis of 50 states and the District of Columbia tried to measure cost, accessibility, and outcomes. The top three states were Hawaii, Iowa, and Minnesota, while the bottom three were Alaska, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Insurance rates played a role as well, with Hawaii and Minnesota ranking fourth and fifth, respectively, in the percentage of adults ages 18 to 64 who carry health insurance. Nevada, Texas, and Florida had the lowest rate of uninsured adults, and all three states also ranked in the bottom ten in the overall ratings.
When talking about medical access, the ability to get good dental healthcare shouldn’t be forgotten. Gum disease doesn’t just affect your teeth; it can also lead to heart disease, strokes, and even poor pregnancy outcomes. It’s easier to find orthodontics in Newark and New Brunswick, NJ, because those cities are part of the New York City metro area. A place like Lufkin, Texas, with a high poverty rate and a population of less than 40,000, is going to have fewer dental offices, and the ones that do exist will be in higher demand. Lufkin is 120 miles north of Houston, so it’s not like people can just hop over to the nation’s fourth-biggest city and get a cavity filled, either, especially if they don’t have a car. As the discussion about America’s health care goals continues, more must be done to ensure the country’s most medically vulnerable residents aren’t left out of the conversation altogether.