Americans Without Health Insurance and Life Expectancy

A recent Harvard study concluded that approximately 45 thousand people expire in the United States annually due to their lack of insurance coverage or adequate healthcare. All in all, research has shown that American individuals who have not attained the age of 64 and are not insured are 40% more likely to die, compared to individuals who are insured.

Results of findings came during a time of heated banter in regard to democratic effort to make change to the United State's $ 2.5 trillion health care industry and attempts to expand healthcare coverage among Americans while decreasing healthcare cost.

President Obama has tagged the healthcare face-lift a top domestic policy priority. However, his plan has been attacked by critics and slowed by feverish congress debate. Since there is so much money involved in healthcare and so much potential for loss, it is certainly not surprising that insurers and healthcare industries are in opposition to parts of the plan.

The Harvard study, funded by a federal research grant, was published in an online edition of the American Journal of Public Health. It was released by Physicians for a National Health Agenda, which favors government-insured or "single-payer" health insurance.

A comparable study in 1993 found that individuals without insurance had a 25 percent higher probability of death, according to the Harvard group. The Institute of Medicine later used that data in its 2002 assessment showing approximately 18,000 individuals a year died because they lacked coverage.

Part of the amplified risk now is due to the growing ranks of those who are uninsured. Roughly 46.3 million people in the United States lacked coverage in 2008, up from 45.7 million in 2007. Unfortunately, our nation has experienced record layoffs and downsizing in recent years. Thus, vaulting the number of individuals who must obtain individual coverage or keep their current coverage through a Cobra policy. Cobra is simply an extension of an individual's previous health coverage (prior to layoff). However, where the employer would cover 50 percent (or more) of the insurance cost, the individual must cover the entire cost to be insured (upon going on Cobra). It is not surprising that many decide to go without vs. Doubling their current cost to be insured.

Another dynamic is that there are fewer places for the uninsured to get satisfactory care. "Public hospitals and clinics are scaling back across the country in cities like New Orleans, Detroit and others" per David Himmelstein (Co-author of the Harvard study) and additional co-author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler claimed that the findings show that without adequate coverage, uninsured people are more likely to pass away due to complications connected with avoidable diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

County hospitals are not known for their speedy service or short waiting periods. In fact, in 2009 a Dallas business owner died while waiting to be seen in the county hospital. The individual (Mike Herera) entered the county emergency room suffering from his recurrence hernia problem. When asked to provide his level of pain, Mr. Herera stated it was a 10 on a scale of 1-10. His vital signs were normal and he was labeled an "urgent case" (a 3 on an emergency scale of 5). However, Mr. Herera was not the only "urgent case" as his waiting room experience reached 19 hours before he suffered a heart attack and died (in the waiting room).

Despite the extremity of Mr. Herera's situation is among the minority, the likelihood of having an extended wait while in the county hospital is very high. Unfortunately, this is one of the few available options for the uninsured. Meanwhile, politicians (and the every day American) continue to banter over the healthcare reform being passed. Undoubtedly, there are valid points to both sides of the healthcare reform debate. Many have chosen to join the debate in the aftermath of President Obama's push for reform. You can not help but wonder how much better healthcare might be if those same individuals stepped up and attempted to do something about the inept system prior to the reform. The "numbers" do not lie (regarding uninsured life expectancy). Unfortunately, the only numbers that seem to matter to many politicians, healthcare providers and insurers are the numbers on those little green pieces of paper.

Simeon Knight

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