Wealth is health and vice versa according to a study confirming that high earners in Ireland have easier access to healthcare and rate their own health as better than those on low incomes.
The Health Inequalities in Europe report finds Ireland is one of the most unequal countries in the EU regarding access to healthcare if measured by income level.
Much of the blame is placed on Ireland’s unusually high dependence on private health insurance and the two-tier health system it creates, with those who can afford to pay for insurance faring best.
“The 45.4% of Irish people with private health insurance continue to enjoy favourable conditions, like faster access to diagnostics and hospital treatments, even from public providers,” said Shana Cohen, director of Tasc (Think-tank for Action on Social Change) which produced the report in conjunction with the Foundation of European Progressive Studies.
“The old saying ‘health is wealth’ seems to ring particularly true for Ireland. What this report makes very clear is that people with private health insurance have a much better chance of getting the health services they need, and getting them quickly.”
Timon Forster, the report’s co-author, said the study throws up particular concerns about those in the “twilight zone” — people who can not afford private health insurance but whose income is above the medical card threshold.
He said just 1.1% of people in the top 20% of earnings report having unmet medical care needs, while 4.2% of those in the bottom 20% of earnings say the same.
He added that because those on the very lowest incomes are likely to have full access to primary care at little or no cost, the percentage is likely to be higher for the twilight zone people.
The report forms the basis for a conference at Trinity College today looking at policies to reduce the inequalities. Tasc is calling for the introduction of universal healthcare coverage to level the playing field in terms of access to health services.
Tasc says health inequality cannot be tackled in isolation but needs to take in issues such as health literacy, and should be linked to labour market and fiscal policies.