Measuring the Health Outcomes of Social, Economic, and Environmental Policies

Introduction and summary

Americans often think of health policy in terms of health care policies that affect prescription drug prices, deal with Medicare and Medicaid, or focus on health insurance coverage. But the health of Americans and the factors that affect health are about much more than health care. In fact, studies show that health care accounts for only about 10 percent to 20 percent of health outcomes.1 Health and life expectancy are shaped to a much greater extent by people’s living conditions and environment. The health of Americans is determined by education, income, jobs, housing, neighborhoods, and the world around them. One study estimated that education and income explained 60 percent of the variation in life expectancy.2

Put simply, social, economic, and environmental policies are health policies. Decisions about wages and benefits, taxes, education, affordable housing, rapid transit,…

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