Monday, May 16, 2005

Class and Health

The second installment of the NYT series on class is out today and its focus is on class and health. Using three people from three different classes who all have heart attacks, they cover everything from hospital choices, doctor's visits and diet and exercise options. I wrote about this issue myself a while back. The issue I have with all these calls to eat better and exercise more is that these options are often not available to people at lower income levels. I, myself, who am supposedly in the top fifth in income (who knew!), can't really afford to join a health club, though I do have a nice neighborhood for walking and free access to tennis and basketball courts. I also complained about the cost of healthy food. Though I have found some possibilities (Trader Joe's and a good produce store nearby), it's still hard to reconcile spending $3.00 on asparagus that will only last for one meal when you can buy $3.00 in potatoes that will last for several meals. This is just the way most people watching a food budget think. Prices are more important than the nutrition label.

The NYT article is really revealing. The woman in the lower class was at a disadvantage to begin with, having unhealthy habits and not really knowing or having access to resources that would help her change those habits. Her visit to the doctor revealed other health problems that might have been caught at regular preventative visits, but without good health insurance and shaky language skills, those visits never occurred. In some ways, it's an argument for nationalized health care. I'm not saying it's the be-all end-all, but national health care would solve a number of problems. The bankruptcy issue, for one. Social Security, for another. When health care costs are a huge chunk of everyone's budget, relieving that chunk or lessening it means they are less likely to have financial difficulties as a result of health problems and less to worry about as they get older and have lots of medicine and doctor visits. They might not even have the health problems to begin with because they would have gotten proper care earlier.

We have been very, very lucky, but there have been times when we haven't had health insurance (like in grad school) and if something had happened (car wreck, major illness), we would have been in deep trouble. But, of course, we have families who are financially stable enough to help us and that's what many in the lower classes do not have. There's no one to bail them out.

For some reason, this whole issue makes me think of a Dickens novel where the poor families live in squalor and suffer horrible illnesses while the wealthy families go out for daily constitutionals and take trips to southern Italy to regain their health. I had always identified with the families in squalor because I certainly can't take trips to Italy on a whim. But I see now that I'm closer to that than I am to whithering away from a disease. A scary thought.