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Opinion: Real Implications of Affordability — It’s Not Just Political Rhetoric

When money is tight or health fails, stress is a major factor in people’s lives

Joel C. Cantor
Credit: Amanda Brown
Joel Cantor, director of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy

The policy and political debates swirling around us have real implications for people in New Jersey. Perhaps the most talked about theme in our gubernatorial debates has been affordability — how do we make New Jersey a more affordable place to live? On the national stage, policymakers are debating taxes and the future of affordable healthcare.

New findings from a New Jersey poll from the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy underscores the importance of these themes. We asked a scientific sample of 1,202 adults in the state how much stress they had experienced in the prior month.

Overall, New Jersey isn’t an outlier. Compared to a recent national poll, Garden State residents report similar levels of stress. Given that we are one of the most well-to-do states, we might expect our stress levels to be lower than average, but they are not.

A deeper analysis of the New Jersey poll, shown in the chart below, reveals two important factors driving stress here.

Click to expand/close

While about one-in-four New Jersey adults report “a great deal of stress” overall, just over half of those who say they “don’t have enough money to make ends meet” report high stress, while only 10 percent in this group reports little or no stress.

It turns out that health is a second important driver of stress. Among poll respondents reporting that their health is “fair” or “poor,” two in five report high stress.

The national debate about the future of Obamacare ties these two issues together. Of course, being sick can be very stressful, but that stress is compounded when you can’t be sure you’ll have adequate (or any) health insurance to cover medical costs. In fact, over a third of those without health insurance in the poll say they worry about their ability to pay bills, higher than respondents with private or government coverage.

The outcome of policy debates in Trenton, with a new governor in January, and in Washington could have major implications for affordability and, it turns out, the stress we experience. These findings are from the New Jersey Health and Well-Being poll, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and designed with input from other New Jersey philanthropies.

Joel C. Cantor is the director of the Center for State Health Policy and distinguished professor of public policy at Rutgers University. The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author and are not endorsed by funders of the Center for State Health Policy.

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