Impact of Health on Poverty

Poor health drives poverty in three important ways.  First, being in poor health means that it is much harder for you to get a job, you miss more days of work, and you are more likely to be fired, either for cause, such as missed work, or as the first to go in a layoff.

Second, poor dental health is particularly underestimated as a cause of poverty.  Good dental care is expensive and is rarely covered by welfare or entry-level health plans, so the poor can rarely afford it.  But in this era of Hollywood smiles, someone with missing or visibly rotten teeth is unemployable in any position that has contact with the public.  You can’t get a job flipping burgers or parking cars, and retailers won’t hire you for anything but a warehouse position.  Most entry-level jobs are service or sales jobs, which are completely ruled out.

The third way that health drives poverty is the sheer cost of health care and the way the industry discriminates against the uninsured.  It’s become a sadly common story in America:  people who can’t quite afford insurance (which includes many who don’t fit the typical “poor” stereotype) experience a major health problem, and suddenly find themselves facing overwhelming debt and bankruptcy because doctors and hospitals routinely charge uninsured patients far more – as much as 20 to 50 times more – than they charge insurance companies for the exact same treatment.  For people who are just making it, a single uninsured health crisis is often the tipping point that drops them into (or back into) poverty.

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