Poverty costs the healthcare system

01-17-12

Today marks the second day of tough talks between the federal government the provincial/territorial premiers over the renewal of the Canada health and social transfers (CHT & CST).  The debate has mainly centered around the amount of money each province will receive and the surprise announcement from the federal government last December that health transfer investments would be lower in future years.

Yesterday, we posted a blog on the Huffington Post titled, “Poverty: A Huge Cost to Our Health-care System” that looks at the cost of poverty on the healthcare system in general and the important relationship between poverty and health that is being overlooked.  Here is an excerpt:

Poverty and health go hand-in-hand. People in poverty are more likely to use the health care system because of physical and mental health issues or illness, and be more likely to face an early death. Stress, poor nutrition, inadequate housing, and unstable social environments are a few reasons for this.

Known as the social determinants of health, these issues can lead to increased pressure on the health care system. Current healthcare spending that is associated with poverty is estimated at approximately 20 per cent. This fact demonstrates the weight that socio-economic disparities have on health systems and the importance of discussing both the future of the CST and CHT together.

While the debate on the future of the CHT has garnered media attention in the past few weeks, little commentary is surfacing on the funding of the CST, which directly impacts programs that benefit people with low-income.

The CST specifically supports provincial and territorial social assistance, post-secondary education, and reaches other social programs such as housing and childcare. Adequately funding these programs and reducing poverty saves money — the federal government could save $7.6 billion annually on health costs, and $2.9 billion in Ontario alone according to the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) Cost of Poverty report.”  (The full is on the Huffington Post Canada website.)

Research has shown that addressing poverty will save both the federal and provincial governments billions of dollars.  Aside from the fact that poverty is an injustice, eliminating it just makes economic sense.

A report released yesterday by the Canadian Medical Association Journal on prescription drugs reinforced the connection between poverty and health.  The report noted that people who are poor, sick or uninsured are less likely to be able to afford necessary prescription drugs. In total, 2/3 of Canadians pay for their medications themselves totalling $4.6 billion a year.  People who simply cannot afford to pay go without, which can increase the risk of repeated illness or hinder recovery.

As the premiers round up their 2-day meeting and the investment in the transfers appears to be shrinking, we hope that they turn to evidence illustrating the connection between poverty and health and consider the cost savings associated with addressing low-income head on.