Advocacy group: 26,000 die prematurely without health insurance
June 20th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Advocacy group: 26,000 die prematurely without health insurance

A national health care consumer advocacy group estimates that three Americans die every hour as a result of not having health insurance.  

According to "Dying for Coverage," the latest report by Families USA, 72 Americans die each day, 500 Americans die every week and approximately Americans 2,175 die each month, due to lack of health insurance.

"The Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress to address an American tragedy and an American shame," said Ron Pollack, Executive Director Families USA. "The fact remains that for the millions of Americans without health coverage, only the Affordable Care offers the promise of access to affordable coverage and to a longer and healthier life." 

Families USA has been a staunch supporter of President Obama's health care reform law.

The report found that the reasons for being uninsured varied, but many of those without health insurance had coverage denied because of pre-existing conditions.  Others have been priced out of the market on the heels of a failing economy - a time when keeping their homes and feeding their families took precedence over holding on to insurance in the face of rising premiums. And some lost their benefits when employers stopped providing coverage.

According to Families USA between 2005 and 2010, premature deaths rose from 20,350 to 26,100.  The total number during that time was 134,120.  Each state is affected, the organization said. Vermont had the fewest deaths with 28 while California had the most - 3,164, according to this report.

The method used to determine how many lives were lost was based on a model developed by the Institute of Medicine in 2002 for their report "Care without Coverage: Too Little, Too Late."  In that report, the IOM found 18,000 adults between 25 and 64 died in 2000 because they didn't have health insurance. 

"For almost 50 million Americans, not having health insurance isn't trivial, or just an inconvenience or a minor budget challenge." Pollack said. "Because of the way we currently provide and charge for health care, many millions of Americans without health coverage are denied regular access to quality care, and many of these people face an unjust sentence of a less healthy life and an earlier death."

Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, the national trade association that represents the insurance industry said the rising cost of care needs to be addressed.  

"Health plans have long supported reforms to give all Americans the peace of mind and financial security that health care coverage provides. The nation must also address the soaring cost of medical care that is adding a financial burden on families and employers and threatening the long-term sustainability of our vital safety net programs."

But Families USA says the current delivery system is stacked against those without insurance. They pay more for care because they can't negotiate discounted prices on doctor and hospital charges like insurance companies can.  As a result they often don't get preventative care and forgo or delay screenings and necessary medical care.

The report further states that in the past 2 years, uninsured women older than 50 were half as likely as insured women to get mammograms.  Low-income uninsured adults were 5 times less likely to get screened for colon cancer in the past 5 years compared to insured adults.  Cancer patients without insurance are five times more likely to delay or even skip treatment because of the cost.  

In addition, uninsured adults are more often diagnosed with advanced stage disease and they are 25% more likely to die prematurely than those with private insurance.

"The Affordable Care Act lets us wake up from this terrible health care nightmare of premature death," Pollack said. "Wiping out health reform means the nightmare will continue for all Americans."

Forty year old Regina Holliday says having care is a game changer.  She and her husband Frederick were married for almost 16 years.  During most of that time they had no health insurance even though both worked multiple jobs-most of them part time. They had two small children and paid all their medical bills out of pocket.

“Two adults with 2 children and 6 jobs and we couldn’t afford health insurance between the two of us living in D.C.” Regina said. “We didn’t go to the doctor until we were really, really, really sick-couldn’t get out of bed sick.”

Frederick, a college professor, had a urinary tract stricture – a pre-existing condition and yet another barrier to finding affordable coverage.  “Rent and food was just pretty much all of our money every month so when we looked at policies with pre-existing conditions we couldn’t afford that,” said Regina.

In 2008 she got a fulltime job that paid for health insurance but they could not afford the family coverage so only Regina had health care.  Soon thereafter Fred found a full time job teaching. For the first time in years the entire family had coverage. It was around that time that Frederick began to get sick.

He was always tired, lost weight, was in pain. After numerous tests and scans Frederick was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer. It had metastasized to his stomach, bones, and lungs. He died several months later at the age of 39.

“I believe that if my husband had consistent health care during his adult life he would still be alive today,” Regina told CNN. “Today, I’m a member of Kaiser Permanente and I see how true preventative care works-annual physicals, paying attention to medical records, charting how you’re doing year to year. If anyone had ever done that for my husband there’s a very good chance he’d be alive today.”

The method used to determine how many lives were lost was based on a model developed by the Institute of Medicine in 2002 for their report "Care without Coverage: Too Little, Too Late."  In that report, the IOM found 18,000 adults between 25 and 64 died in 2000 because they didn't have health insurance. 

Pollack says if the Affordable Health Care Act stays intact and goes into effect fully in 2014, millions of American will be eligible for help covering costs and insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions or charge them higher premiums.

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