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No health insurance linked to 45000 deaths yearly

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Results of a new study show having no health insurance leads to 45000 deaths annually. The findings come from Harvard researchers, and show that patients who cannot afford to see their doctor or purchase their medications die. The high rate of annual deaths because of lack of health insurance is preventable.

According to Dr. Andrew Wilper, who worked at Harvard Medical School during the study, "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." Dr. Wilper now teaches at the University of Washington Medical School.

The report shows that illnesses such as kidney disease are no longer responsible for a large majority of deaths. Instead, lack of health insurance has become a major risk factor for dying. Having no health insurance was found to increase risk of dying by forty percent, compared to individuals with private health insurance.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that in 2002 estimated deaths yearly from no health insurance was placed at 18,000. The current estimate for deaths among those without health insurance is now found to be 45000 each year.

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Individuals with no health insurance simply ignore needed care – they go without, and die. Another factor that contributes to deaths among the uninsured is access to quality health care.

The study looked at participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), between 1986 and 1994, analyzing adults under age 65. Participants in the study underwent physical exam by a physician. The study tracked the number of individuals who died by the year 2000.

Study co-author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler says, "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 findings showed that poor health, being male, a former smoker, and in poor overall health also increased risk of dying. No health insurance was linked to a forty percent increased risk of death.

Dr. David Himmelstein, study co-author and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, says the new estimates mean one person with no health insurance dies every 12 minutes. Lack of health insurance causes 44,789 excess deaths yearly.