Any one wandering why there is urgency in the campaign for health care reform should know that every hour of the status quo costs lives. According to a Harvard Medical School study released last week, nearly 45,000 people die in the United States each year — one every 12 minutes — in large part because they lack health insurance and cannot get adequate care. Overall, researchers said American adults age 64 and younger who lack health insurance have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who have coverage.
The Harvard study, funded by a federal research grant, was published in the online edition of the American Journal of Public Health. It was released by Physicians for a National Health Program, which favors government-backed or “single-payer” health insurance.
A similar study in 1993 found those without insurance had a 25 percent greater risk of death, according to the Harvard group. The Institute of Medicine later used that data in its 2002 estimate showing about 18,000 people a year died because they lacked coverage.
Roughly 46.3 million people in the United States lacked coverage in 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau reported last week, up from 45.7 million in 2007. This increase in numbers of uninsured results in greater risk for the group. Another factor is that there are fewer places for the uninsured to get good care. Public hospitals and clinics are scaling back or closing across the country. Uninsured people are more likely to die from complications associated with preventable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
The Harvard researchers analyzed data on about 9,000 patients tracked by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics through the year 2000. They excluded older Americans because those aged 65 or older are covered by the U.S. Medicare insurance program.
On September 10, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual estimates from the Current Population Survey (CPS) of the number and percentage of Americans who lacked health insurance coverage in calendar year 2008. Nationally, the number of uninsured people grew from 45.7 million to 46.3 million between 2007 and 2008, while the uninsured rate remained stable at 15.4 percent of the population. Colorado’s uninsured rate in 2007-08 is estimated to be 16.1 percent. According to the CPS estimates, the number of uninsured Coloradans is 790,000 in 2007-08.