Lack of education breeds disparities despite equal access to care

Improved access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act won't necessarily narrow the care disadvantage gap for less educated patients, according to a new brief from the Virginia Commonwealth University's (VCU) Center on Society and Health.

People with less education tend to have more challenges accessing healthcare services like primary care providers, lower rates of insurance coverage, and less money for copayments and prescriptions. And healthcare access alone doesn't eliminate the relationship between education and health, the brief states.

People with less education are in worse health than those with more education, even with the same access to care, VCU found. The brief cited unpublished member survey data from Kaiser Permanente that found 69 percent of adults with a college education described their health as very good or excellent, compared to just 32 percent of those who didn't have a high school diploma. Additionally, 36 percent of those without a high school diploma said physical health problems interfered with their daily activities, compared to just 13 percent of college graduates.

Lack of education can have deadly consequences. The brief cites more data from Kaiser that found risk of death is higher among diabetes patients with lower education, despite the same access to care. This could be because less-educated patients lack access to financial, health and community resources to help manage their diabetes.

To help narrow the gap, the U.S. must further improve access to care by boosting quality and reducing health disparities, according to the brief. This will require policies that target factors outside of healthcare, like neighborhood condition and job quality, that cause people with less education to experience more illness, along with policies that improve education from childhood through college.

To learn more:
- here's the brief