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Canadians' health divided by income: CMA

The health gap is widening between rich and poor Canadians, the Canadian Medical Association says. The CMA is meeting in Yellowknife to consider how to reduce that gap.

In a news release, the CMA released results of a public opinion survey that found "The health of Canadians is increasingly being affected by how much money they earn, with lower income groups reporting poorer health and greater use of health services than those with higher incomes." The release also said:

In describing their health, only 39 per cent of those earning less than $30,000 a year said it was excellent or very good, compared to 68 per cent of those earning $60,000 or more – a gap of 29 percentage points. In 2009, the gap between the two income groups was 17 points.

The findings come from an Ipsos Reid survey carried out for the Canadian Medical Association as it prepared its 2012 National Report Card on Canadian health care.

"When it comes to the well-being of Canadians, the old saying that wealth equals health continues to ring true," said Dr. John Haggie, president of the CMA. "What is particularly worrisome for Canada's doctors is that in a nation as prosperous as Canada, the gap between the 'haves' and 'have nots' appears to be widening."

The survey said 59 per cent of lower-income Canadians reported accessing health care in the past month, compared to 43 per cent of those with higher incomes. Almost a quarter of those on low incomes reported they had delayed or stopped the purchase of prescription drugs, while only 3 per cent of higher-income Canadians did.

Lower-income Canadians also reported being diagnosed with chronic conditions, being overweight, and having overweight children, at higher rates than upper-income Canadians. A third of lower-income Canadians use tobacco daily, compared to 10 per cent of those on higher incomes.

The CMA also released its 12th Annual National Report Card on Health Care, based on the survey. The report found that while all Canadians had reported the same rate of health-care access in 2009, a gap of 16 percentage points has opened in the past three years.

Similarly, there was no gap in 2009 between higher-income and lower-income Canadians in their self-perceptions of being overweight. But in 2012 the gap was 6 points: 38 per cent among those earning under $30,000 and 32 per cent among those earning over $60,000.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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