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Universal Health Care May Lessen Income's Impact on Heart Disease

MONDAY, Nov. 15 (HealthDay News) -- In Australia, where universal health care is available to all, heart disease is not much more prevalent among poor citizens than it is among the rich, a new study has found.

While the researchers say that differences in risk do exist between the socioeconomic groups, the differences are minimal, despite the fact that heart disease is typically thought of as more prevalent in poorer communities.

The analysis, led by Andrea Driscoll, a senior research fellow at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, is scheduled for presentation Monday at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association, held in Chicago.

To explore the subject, Driscoll and her team tallied heart disease incidence among almost 10,000 patients who were being cared for by nearly 1,300 Australian doctors spread across regions ranging from wealthy to disadvantaged.

The investigators found that men living in poor areas had only a slightly greater risk for heart disease than men in richer parts of the country. Risk differences among women were non-existent.

However, heart disease risk did appear to go up a bit as wealth fell, rising 7 percent in the disadvantaged areas.

This, the study team suggested, was in part a function of higher smoking rates in poorer regions; whereas 6 percent of residents in rich communities smoked, that figure rose to 13 percent in less well-off localities.

Driscoll and colleagues also found that poorer households were more likely to be taking a cholesterol-lowering drug and had lower cholesterol levels. While 39 percent of patients in wealthy areas were on such a regimen, 50 percent of those in poor areas were prescribed this form of treatment.

Experts note that research presented at meetings is not subjected to the same type of scrutiny given to research published in peer-reviewed journals.

More information

For more on health care disparities in the United States, visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

-- Alan Mozes

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Nov. 15, 2010

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