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Does Health Care Access Contribute to Your Overall Happiness?

By Jonathan Thompson January 27, 2016 Posted in: Personal Health , Article

Many people -- whether inside or outside the health care field -- agree that adequate health care access is a basic human need, which explains why not having sufficient, affordable health insurance can be a source of major stress.

Heather Caruthers of Louisiana, who works part-time and whose husband is self-employed, was uninsured for the first several years of her married life. She says, "I felt unprotected and irresponsible. But we just couldn't afford health insurance." Her husband added, "Every time either of us got sick -- even with just a cold -- it was pretty stressful, knowing that it could get worse."

Of course, Heather and her husband are not the only people who have felt this way. As of 2014, 13.3 percent of Americans under age 65 were still uninsured, according to a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That may not seem like a large percentage, but those numbers represent about 35.7 million adults.

So, what is the affect of access to health care on a person's sense of overall well-being?

Hard Evidence

Oddly, despite the abundance of personal testimonies and anecdotal evidence, solid science on the subject is fairly rare. In 2009, however, researchers for the Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany set out to explore this very topic. Using data from the United States, the team authored a paper entitled "Happiness and Health Care Coverage," in which they used a combination of techniques -- including a four-year-long phone survey -- to discover the link between health care access and happiness.

Not all that shockingly, the author found "evidence that not having the ability to see a doctor because of an inability to pay is a major and substantial source of unhappiness in the United States, even for people with high income." The same study found that people who couldn't afford to see a doctor were, on average, unhealthier -- both physically and mentally. In fact, based on several metrics of happiness, the survey findings revealed lower levels of life satisfaction and well-being when people are unable to get the care they need.

Clearly, then, the scientific evidence out there supports the logical connection that many individuals -- including the couple quoted above -- have already formed regarding their health care quality and access and their well-being.

What Happens Next?

Do happiness and well-being increase when people have access to quality health care? The aforementioned survey supports this thinking, and judging by Heather's experience, this seems to be the case. Heather and her husband did eventually get health insurance after she found a new job that provided it for her. The couple was then able to pay for her husband's plan on their own.

"I feel like if something happens, we have a safety net. And it's not like we're just being irresponsible and hoping for the best," Heather said when asked about how things have changed for them.

So much goes into our overall happiness, well-being, and peace of mind. The last thing we want is uncertainty, particularly financial uncertainty, when it comes to getting the health care we need. It's clear that, whether backed up by quantitative research or personal stories, having quality health care in our pocket when we need it helps us breathe easier every day.

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