Uninsured Perish Unnecessarily

May 22, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Nearly 20,000 Americans between 25 and 64 years old die each year from ailments that could have been treated had they had health insurance, a new study reported.

The report, by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), said the 30 million US adults who have no health coverage miss out on the benefit of preventative care and may actually get lower quality medical attention in emergencies such as car accidents or heart attacks, according to a Reuters news report. The IOM advises the National Academy of Sciences on health policy.

In general, IOM researchers said going without basic health coverage could have a significant impact on a person’s well being:

  • a 1999 study found that women without health insurance were one-quarter as likely as insured women to have had a mammogram screening for breast cancer in the last three years,
  • studies show that uninsured breast cancer victims have a 30% to 50% higher risk of dying from the disease than women with insurance,
  • a 1992 study showed that uninsured patients with cardiovascular disease were twice as likely to have severe or uncontrolled disease than demographically similar patients with coverage, and
  • uninsured individuals were also only one-third as likely to have had their cholesterol checked within the last five years

Experts said that providing widespread health coverage to American adults before they get sick could also help narrow broad health disparities between whites and ethnic minorities. Whites are twice as likely as Hispanics and three times as likely as African Americans to have health insurance.

However, the report also cites studies showing that uninsured patients get poorer care in emergency departments and trauma centers. A 1994 study showed that trauma patients without insurance were 40% less likely to receive surgery than were insured patients with the same injuries.