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Cause of death? Lack of insurance

Study: 45,000 die each year because they're uninsured

By Karen Datko Sep 28, 2009 6:19PM

A new Harvard study estimates that nearly 45,000 Americans die each year because they don't have health insurance -- and that's after other factors like income and unhealthy behaviors are taken into account.

 

"Deaths associated with lack of health insurance now exceed those caused by many common killers such as kidney disease," an article by the Cambridge Health Alliance reports.

 

The study says the uninsured have a 40% higher risk of death than people who have private health insurance -- like the insurance you get through your job. Or, to put it another way, a person dies because of a lack of insurance every 12 minutes.

 

Of course, some people neglect their health. But many, we suspect, don't see a doctor because they're afraid of the cost. Doctor visits and tests can add up to an intimidating amount, even if you're uninsured but have a good income. A CNN story put a human face on some of these avoidable deaths -- a freelance cameraman, a self-employed mother of two, and a 25-year-old woman who worked in a movie theater.

 

So we had to wonder: Have you put off visits to the doctor because of financial considerations?

 

Overall, 15.4% of Americans don't have health insurance. The study breaks it down state by state, (.pdf file). For example:

  • In Texas, where just under 30% of people lacked insurance in 2005, annual deaths attributed to being uninsured was 4,675.
  • Here in Montana, the percentage of uninsured was 19.4%, and 147 people paid the ultimate price.
  • In Florida, where 26% were uninsured, the death toll attributed to lack of insurance was 3,925.

Also consider that the number of deaths blamed on lack of insurance is 2.5 times higher than it was in 2002, due to several factors. The study found that:

  • More people are uninsured. The U.S. Census said 46.3 million people were uninsured last year -- and since then millions of people have lost jobs.
  • The safety net for the uninsured has larger holes, as nonprofit hospitals and clinics have closed.
  • The quality of care for those with insurance has improved. "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. Andrew Wilper, lead author of the study, said.

"We're losing more Americans every day because of inaction ... than drunk driving and homicide combined," Dr. David Himmelstein, a co-author of the study, told Reuters. Himmelstein and his wife, study co-author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, founded Physicians for a National Health Program.

 

Related reading:

Published Sept. 28, 2009

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