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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Data: Doty, et al., 2020, "Income-Related Inequality In Affordability And Access To Primary Care In Eleven High Income Countries"; Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Socioeconomic disparities in health care are significantly worse in the U.S. than in other wealthy countries, according to a new study by the Commonwealth Fund, published in Health Affairs.

Why it matters: Wealthy Americans have long had better access to care — and therefore better outcomes — than poor Americans. And the coronavirus' disproportionate impact on low-income Americans and people of color has made those disparities glaringly obvious.

What they found: "Adults with lower incomes in the U.S. were far more likely than those in the other high-income nations ... to go without needed health care because of costs, to face medical bill burdens, and to struggle to afford basic necessities such as housing and healthy food," the study's authors write.

  • Low-income adults are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions in the U.S. than in the 10 other high-income countries. During the pandemic, these underlying conditions have translated into a higher risk of serious coronavirus infections.
  • On every measure of health status, as well as affordability and access to primary care, the U.S. reported some of the largest income disparities.

Yes, but: Higher-income Americans were also more likely to forgo health care because of the cost than their affluent peers in most other countries.

Between the lines: The U.S. was the only country studied that doesn't have universal health coverage along with some form of cost protections.

  • The U.S. also underinvests in primary care, whereas most of the other countries in the study have national policies that support strong primary care.
  • We also invest less in social determinants of health and social services.

The bottom line: These disparities have real-world implications every day. But they've been vividly on display over the last nine months, as vulnerable populations have consistently been more likely to be infected by the virus and, ultimately, to die from it.

Go deeper

Updated 16 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases aren't budging — even after vaccinations doubled— Health care workers feel stress, burnout more than a year into the pandemic — Handful of "breakthrough" COVID cases occurred in nursing homes, CDC says.
  2. Vaccines: Johnson & Johnson's vaccine production problems look even bigger — All U.S. adults now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine.
  3. Political: Watchdog says agency infighting increased health and safety risks at start of pandemic.
  4. World: EU regulator: Benefits of J&J vaccine outweigh risk of rare blood clots.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.

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