Do People Die from Lack of Access to Regular Health Care?

The reflexive answer is, “Of course they do,” but proving it with hard numbers is another thing. And acting on it as national policy is yet another step. Now there’s an important study that puts hard numbers into the national debate about access to health care.

When Massachusetts in 2006 became the first state to give 100 percent of its residents access to health insurance, researchers immediately began following the state’s death rates and comparing them to other states that didn’t yet have a fully insured populace.

Now the results are in, and they’re pretty dramatic:

* Among the four million Massachusetts residents between ages 20 and 64, the death rate went down by about three percent every year after the new health insurance law took effect.

* The death rate was especially affected in those conditions like diabetes where regular health care is known to have a positive impact.

* Among Massachusetts residents who already had full health insurance thanks to Medicare, there was no big drop in deaths during that time.

* Similarly, in other states with less access to health insurance, death rates were stable while in Massachusetts they were going down.

While not conclusive final proof, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that access to health insurance saves lives. Which was the whole point of the Affordable Care Act, which was modeled after the Massachusetts plan.

Massachusetts provided the incubator for a national experiment on the effects of universal health insurance on life and death.

But now the experiment continues, because about half the states have rejected the invitation of the Affordable Care Act to provide some level of access to care to everybody in their states, through expansion of Medicaid. So in future years we will be able to compare those states to the ones that did embrace the Medicaid expansion.

As a health policy official told the New York Times:

“It’s very unfortunate for people living in states not expanding Medicaid, but from the point of view of research, it’s a gold mine.”

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