Low socioeconomic status (SES) is often associated with excess morbidity and premature mortality. Such health disparities claim a steep economic cost: Possibly-preventable poor health outcomes harm societal welfare, impair the domestic product, and increase health care expenditures. We estimate the economic costs of health inequalities associated with socioeconomic status in Israel.
The monetary cost of health inequalities is estimated relative to a counterfactual with a more equal outcome, in which the submedian SES group achieves the average health outcome of the above-median group. We use three SES measures: the socioeceonmic ranking of localities, individuals’ income, and individuals’ education level. We examine costs related to the often-worse health outcomes in submedian SES groups, mainly: The welfare and product loss from excess mortality, the product loss from excess morbidity among workers and working-age adults, the costs of excess medical care provided, and the excess government expenditure on disability benefits. We use data from the Central Bureau of Statistics’ (CBS) surveys and socio-health profile of localities, from the National Insurance Institute, from the Ministry of Health, and from the Israel Tax Authority. All costs are adjusted to 2014 terms.
The annual welfare loss due to higher mortality in socioeconomically submedian localities is estimated at about 1.1–3.1 billion USD. Excess absenteeism and joblessness occasioned by illness among low-income and poorly educated workers are associated with 1.4 billion USD in lost product every year. Low SES is associated with overuse of inpatient care and underuse of community care, with a net annual cost of about 80 million USD a year. The government bears additional cost of 450 million USD a year, mainly due to extra outlays for disability benefits. We estimate the total cost of the estimated health disparities at a sum equal to 0.7–1.6% of Israel’s GDP.
Our estimates underline the substantial economic impact of SES-related health disparities in Israel. The descriptive evidence presented in this paper highlights possible benefits to the economy from policies that will improve health outcomes of low SES groups.