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article imageOne American dies every twelve minutes due to no health insurance

By Kevin Jess     Sep 18, 2009 in Health
A new study published online Thursday estimates nearly 45,000 deaths are associated with lack of health insurance, annually. That figure is about two and a half times more than the Institute of Medicine found in 2002.
The new study, 'Health Insurance and Mortality in U.S. Adults,'appeared in Thursday's online edition of the American Journal of Public Health.
Harvard researchers have found that uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who are privately insured. In 1993 the excess death rate was found to be 25 percent.
One of the main authors, Dr. Andrew Wilper, who now teaches at the University of Washington Medical School, said in an interview with the American Journal of Public Health, "The uninsured have a higher risk of death when compared to the privately insured, even after taking into account socioeconomics, health behaviors and baseline health. We doctors have many new ways to prevent deaths from hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, but only if patients can get into our offices and afford their medications."
The study, which also used data from national surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at death rates after taking education, income and other factors including smoking, drinking and obesity into account. It concluded that lack of health insurance causes an estimated 44,789 deaths annually.
2002 estimates from the IOM and others had put that figure near 18,000. The current study used much the same methods to those used by the IOM in 2002.
Deaths associated with people not having health insurance are now greater than deaths caused by many life threatening illnesses such as kidney disease.
The study includes a state-by-state breakout of excess deaths from lack of insurance.
A rise in the number of people uninsured and the erosion of whatever medical care is available for the disadvantaged would likely explain the substantial increase in the number of deaths associated with lack of insurance. Uninsured people are more likely to go without medical care when they need it says the study.
The improved quality of care for those who can get insurance was another reason for the widening gap in the risk of death between those who are insured and those who are not.
In an interview with the American Journal of Public Health, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, study co-author, professor of medicine at Harvard and a primary care physician in Cambridge, Mass. said, "Historically, every other developed nation has achieved universal health care through some form of nonprofit national health insurance. Our failure to do so means that all Americans pay higher health care costs, and 45,000 pay with their lives."
The online journal also interviewed Dr. David Himmelstein, study co-author and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard who concluded, "The Institute of Medicine, using older studies, estimated that one American dies every 30 minutes from lack of health insurance. Even this grim figure is an underestimate. Now one dies every 12 minutes."
The study concludes by saying, The increased risk of death attributable to uninsurance suggests that alternative measures of access to medical care for the uninsured, such as community health centers, do not provide the protection of private health insurance. Despite widespread acknowledgment that enacting universal coverage would be life saving, doing so remains politically thorny. Now that health reform is again on the political agenda, health professionals have the opportunity to advocate universal coverage.
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