Health Care Costs Push Millions into Poverty and Poor Health Choices

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

A report released by the World Health Organization and the World Bank in December 2017 states how drastic health care expenses are driving nearly 100 million people around the world into severe poverty.  This forces poor families to make a choice when purchasing essentials, such as food or medication.  High health care expenses have also put medicine out of reach for many, leaving these people unable to get the crucial health care they need.  This leaves people of all ages, including infants, unable to receive basic preventative care like common immunizations and health care supplies. The goal of universal health care coverage, where individuals can receive affordable medical treatment, will not be attainable as long as millions of people are suffering from high health expenses that put them into poverty and limit healthy choices.

Since families in poverty have to pick their essentials, healthcare cannot always be chosen.  According to the Guardian, 17% of women in the poorest fifth of households have adequate access to maternal and child health services, compared with 74% for women from the wealthiest households.  This problem is now widespread across all countries, with rising costs surpassing inflation and increasing numbers of people unable to afford health care.

While poverty due to high health costs impacts the well-being of many people, it is also a setback to the United Nations’ sustainable development goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. Not only are 4 billion people lacking essential healthcare (about half of the world’s population), but there is also another 800 million people who are spending 10% of their income or more on health care.  This problem is even worse in Asia, where the majority of citizens spending around 25% of their annual income on health care.

Some corporate media report that health care costs are high, yet they do not connect the poverty and the well-being of individuals. Keeping people in poverty goes hand-in-hand with  being unable to stay healthy due to lack of access to proper care and essential resources.


David Brand, “Health Care Costs Are Forcing 100 Million People to Choose Between Food & Medicine,” Global Citizen, December 15, 2017,

Nurith Aizenman, “Health Care Costs Push a Staggering Number of People Into Extreme Poverty,” National Public Radio, December 14, 2017,

Verity Bowman, “Almost 100 million people a year ‘forced to choose between food and healthcare,’” The Guardian, December 14, 2017,

Student Researcher: Anna Tevanian (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)