Save the Children: Universal Health Care as a Moral Issue

A new study documents how lack of health insurance can be fatal to sick children — not because they are denied care once they get to the hospital, but because they get into the care system too late.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center crunched the numbers of two decades’ worth of children’s hospitalizations — more than 23 million hospital stays. They found that compared with insured children, uninsured children faced a 60 percent increased risk of dying.

The authors estimate at least 1,000 hospitalized children die each year for lack of insurance.

As quoted in a New York Times account of the study, which was published in The Journal of Public Health, one co-author said:

“If you take two kids from the same demographic background – the same race, same gender, same neighborhood income level and same number of co-morbidities or other illnesses – the kid without insurance is 60 percent more likely to die in the hospital than the kid in the bed right next to him or her who is insured,” said David C. Chang, co-director of the pediatric surgery outcomes group at the children’s center.

The kids without insurance tended to arrive at the hospital through the emergency room, and tended to die in less than a day after admission, suggesting they were sicker than insured children, according to the authors.

Dr. Peter Pronovost, another co-author and a patient safety advocate at Hopkins, said:

“The striking thing is that children don’t often die. This study provides further evidence that the need to insure everyone is a moral issue, not just an economic one.”

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