Uninsured People Ages 50 to 64 Have 43% Higher Death Risk Than Insured, Study Finds
The risk of death among uninsured people ages 50 to 64 is 43% higher than it is for people in that age group who have insurance, and more than 105,000 U.S. residents in that age group may die prematurely in the next eight years because they lack insurance, according to a study in Wednesday's Health Affairs, the Boston Globe reports. For the study, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital used data from the National Institute on Aging on 8,736 near elderly adults in 1992, dividing them into two groups of those who were publicly or privately insured compared with those who were uninsured. By examining the number of deaths by the year 2000, the researchers found that lack of insurance increased risk of death by 43%, even after adjusting for the fact that the uninsured are frequently sicker or have lower incomes (Dembner, Boston Globe, 7/7). In addition, the researchers found that low-income uninsured participants were 53% more likely to die early, and those with diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure were also found to be more vulnerable (Heldt Powell, Boston Herald, 7/7).
According to the study, the difference in mortality rates between insured and uninsured adults was found only in whites, not in non-Hispanic, black or Hispanic adults (McWilliams et al., Health Affairs, 7/7). The researchers said that if lack of health insurance were categorized as a disease, it would be the third-leading cause of death among the near-elderly, behind heart disease and cancer. They predicted that if policymakers do not work to expand health coverage, the number of unnecessary deaths among adults in that age group could grow to more than 30,000 per year by 2015 as baby boomers age.
Lead author Dr. J. Michael McWilliams of Brigham and Women's said, "The consequences of being uninsured are growing more severe, especially for this older age group. We were surprised by the sheer number of preventable deaths." Deborah Banda, director of AARP for Massachusetts, said, "The cost of health care not only threatens [U.S. residents'] financial security as they approach retirement, but it's also affecting their life expectancy, and that's appalling." She added, "This report adds another level of urgency to finding a solution to the problem" of the uninsured (Boston Globe, 7/7). John McDonough, president of the advocacy group Health Care for All, said, "It's disturbing and it's familiar. This is one more piece of evidence that the problem of the uninsured is a national scandal." John Boesen, executive director of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, said that the uninsured cost the health care system more because they do not receive adequate preventive care and frequently delay seeking care for illnesses. He added, "There's got to be a whole different way of looking at things" (Boston Herald, 7/7).
Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies for the Cato Institute, questioned the study's findings, saying, "People don't die because of a lack of health coverage. Some people die of a lack of health care." He added that most existing proposals to expand health coverage would increase medical inflation and "push health care out of the reach of more people," the Globe reports (Boston Globe, 7/7). An abstract of the study is available online.