Lack of Insurance is Deadly Single Payer Saves Lives

Being uninsured substantially raises the risk of dying.

Steffie Woolhandler
David Himmelstein

That’s according to a comprehensive review of studies published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The review updated a 2002 study conducted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM – now called the National Academy of Medicine) that concluded that 18,000 persons died each year from lack of health insurance.

The authors carried out an intensive search for all research examining whether health insurance coverage affects overall mortality among adults age 18-64.

They found that multiple studies published since the completion of the IOM study have confirmed that insurance lowers mortality.

They cite consistent findings from a randomized trial carried out in Oregon, as well as multiple quasi-experimental and observational studies.

The studies indicate that insurance decreases the odds of dying among adults by at least 3% and as much as 29%.

The authors conclude that health insurance prevents deaths at least in part by improving the diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure.

The review cites results from several studies, including randomized trials, showing that uninsured and under-insured Americans are less likely to have their hypertension diagnosed, that insurance leads to lower and safer blood pressure levels, and that eliminating financial barriers to hypertension care dramatically decreases all-cause mortality.

Studies have also shown that lack of coverage increases death rates in many other conditions, including breast cancer and major trauma.

“In order to justify policies that strip coverage from millions, members of Congress like Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Raúl Labrador claim that health insurance doesn’t save lives,” said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, the lead author of the study. “But overwhelming scientific evidence says they’re wrong. Thousands of people are already dying each year because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has left 28 million uninsured. The Republican health reform bills would increase that death toll.”

“According to the CBO, the Senate Republicans’ plan would strip coverage from 22 million Americans,” said co-author Dr. David Himmelstein. “The best estimate based on scientific studies is that about 29,000 Americans would die each year as a result. We need to move forward from the ACA to a single payer reform that would cover all Americans, not backwards through repeal.”

Himmelstein and Woolhandler are founders of Physicians for a National Health Program – which supports a single payer system. They say that unlike Obamacare, single payer would cover everyone and saves tens of thousands of lives a year.