Saturday, July 25, 2009

Study Blames 18,000 Deaths in USA on Lack of Insurance

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By Steve Sternberg

More than 18,000 adults in the USA die each year because they are uninsured and can't get proper health care, researchers report in a landmark study released Tuesday.

The 193-page report, ''Care Without Coverage: Too Little, Too Late,'' examines the plight of 30 million -- one in seven -- working-age Americans whose employers don't provide insurance and who don't qualify for government medical care.

About 10 million children lack insurance; elderly Americans are covered by Medicare.

It is the second in a planned series of six reports by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) examining the impact of the nation's fragmented health system. The IOM is a non-profit organization of experts that advises Congress on health issues.

Overall, the researchers say, 18,314 people die in the USA each year because they lack preventive services, a timely diagnosis or appropriate care.

The estimated death toll includes about 1,400 people with high blood pressure, 400 to 600 with breast cancer and 1,500 diagnosed with HIV.

''Our purpose is simply to deliver the facts, and the facts are unequivocal,'' says Reed Tuckson, an author of the report and vice president for consumer health at UnitedHealth Group in Minnetonka, Minn.

Among the study's findings is a comparison of the uninsured with the insured:

* Uninsured people with colon or breast cancer face a 50% higher risk of death.

* Uninsured trauma victims are less likely to be admitted to the hospital, receive the full range of needed services, and are 37% more likely to die of their injuries.

* About 25% of adult diabetics without insurance for a year or more went without a checkup for two years. That boosts their risk of death, blindness and amputations resulting from poor circulation.

Being uninsured also magnifies the risk of death and disability for chronically sick and mentally ill patients, poor people and minorities, who disproportionately lack access to medical care, the landmark study states.

''The report documents the immense consequence of having 40 million uninsured people out there,'' says Ray Werntz, a consumer health expert with the Employee Benefit Research Institute. ''We need to elevate the problem in the national conscience.''

Calculating the cost in human suffering, he says, ''is one way to get there.''

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