Health Care: Necessary But Not Sufficient

Young men listen to a speaker at a meeting.

Will improved access to health care remove the health disadvantages faced by people with less education? Will health care reform make high school dropouts as healthy as college graduates? Not necessarily.

The Issue: Having access to good doctors and medicines is certainly important, but access to health care by itself doesn’t eliminate the relationship between education and health.

Key Findings

  • People with less education have worse health than those with more education—even when they have the same access to health care. According to new Kaiser Permanente data, 69 percent of adults with a college education describe their health as “very good” or “excellent,” compared to only 32 percent of those who lack a high school diploma.

  • Even in countries with universal health care access, this same pattern is seen. In the United Kingdom, where the entire population has access to the National Health Service, illness rates are higher for people with less education.

This brief is a product of the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health’s Education and Health Initiative, a program to raise awareness about the links between education and health.

It is the third in a series of four briefs, with the first highlighting the growing importance of education to health and the second discussing why these two issues are so intertwined. The fourth brief, slated to be released in the winter of 2014, will examine the return on investment, exploring how higher educational attainment relates to costs for medical care.