Health care coverage statistics in Texas clearly present a discrepancy in coverage across income levels of the residents. The reasons for the discrepancy can be viewed from two different sociological standpoints: a functionalist perspective and a conflict perspective. Each of these perspectives can explain the contrast in health care coverage across the income levels that exist in society. Each perspective has its merits and its drawbacks. Careful attention also needs to be used when reading into the statistics. They present a picture that deserves careful attention when looking at and interpreting what they mean.
In 2010, the Central Texas Sustainability Project released data that presents the state of health insurance coverage among residents. The data clearly shows a disparity in the coverage of those with low incomes and those with higher incomes. 29.7% of people with an annual income of $15,000 or less do not have insurance as compared with only 4% of people with an income above $85,000 per year. Another statistic that is interesting from the study is the health status of respondents according to income. 13% of those with an income below $15,000 report having “poor” health compared to 2% of those with an income of $85,000 or more. These statistics present the picture of the poor not able to afford health care coverage and suffering from bad health compared to the wealthy who have health care and report less health concerns. Of the respondents who do not have coverage, reasons for this included that they were healthy and didn’t need it (3%) and could not afford the premiums (31%).
Functionalism in sociology is a theory that maintains each part of society has a purpose and fits into the whole. For example, the family unit produces children and cares for them. Schools prepare these children for participation in society. Government provides the rules and enforces these rules for the good of society. Emile Durkheim described society as parts of a whole that fit and operate together and harmony of these parts creates society (Shortell). The health insurance industry fills a vital role in American society in providing coverage to members of the society in order to obtain necessary and appropriate health care.
The conflict theory of sociology as proposed by Karl Marx, states that the working class (proletariat) struggles against the upper class or owners (bourgeoisie). The struggle grows and the two groups are very aware of it. The conflict is evident in government policies and practices which reflect the interests of the bourgeoisie. As the conflict becomes more intense and more pronounced, current classes in the society will eventually fall apart and the working class will triumph. Through this upheaval classes are eliminated and equality is finally achieved (Rummell).
In the case of health insurance coverage the statistics comply with the conflict theory. Much higher numbers of the poor and lower middle class have no insurance coverage (30% for incomes up to $35,000). Those with incomes above $35,000 are much more likely to have insurance. Of those with incomes between $55,000 and $85,000, only 9% are without insurance. Those with lower incomes who are not of the ownership class have been speaking out against this disparity. The current President was elected partly due to his support and promise of health care for all. Conflict is becoming evident between the classes in this respect. Sheffield points out that health insurance companies increase premiums to cover very expensive procedures that are beneficial to a minute part of the population. This causes them to raise rates which eliminates many people from the ability to pay for premiums. The respondents also answered questions regarding their overall health status. Those with low income responded to having poor health in higher numbers then those with higher incomes. The statistics also show that as income levels increased, so did the percentage of respondents that claim to have very good or excellent health. Is this statistic meaningful to the presence or absence of health insurance or are other factors at play?
The statistics provided give the reader some insight into the reasons for a lack of insurance but the results need to be read carefully and interpreted appropriately. From a functionalist theory perspective, health insurance companies are performing the role they are meant to have in society although they are not performing this function as effectively and efficiently as they should. Health care in the capitalist economy in the United States is not functioning well if viewed from the conflict perspective either. Millions are without coverage because they simply cannot afford it. Change is needed in the health care insurance and as the conflict continues to grow change will assuredly come about as it has in the last two years with the Affordable Care Act.
Rummell, R.J. “Understanding Conflict and War: Volume 3, Conflict in Perspective.”
Sheffield, Melissa. “American Health Care, A Social Institution.” Walden University, Hub Pages,
3 October 2010. Web 17 Apr. 2015 http://www.brooklynsoc.org/courses/43.1/durkheim.html
Shortell, Timothy. “Division of Labor and Social Integration.” Brooklyn College, CUNY, n.d.
Web 17 Apr. 2015. http://www.brooklynsoc.org/courses/43.1/durkheim.html