Objective: Socioeconomic status (SES) is strongly associated with risk of disease and mortality. Universal health insurance is being debated as one remedy for such health inequalities. This article considers mechanisms through which SES affects health and argues that a broader and more comprehensive approach is needed.
Data sources: Published articles surveyed using MEDLINE and review articles and bibliographies.
Methods and results: Research is reviewed on the association of SES with health outcomes in different countries, including those with universal health coverage. Socioeconomic status relates to health at all levels of the SES hierarchy, and access to care accounts for little of this association. Other mechanisms are suggested and implications for policy and clinical practice are discussed.
Conclusion: Health insurance coverage alone is not likely to reduce significantly SES differences in health. Attention should be paid both in policy decisions and in clinical practice to other SES-related factors that may influence patterns of health and disease.