Fewer Uninsured Means Better Care for Everyone

Margaret Dick Tocknell, September 28, 2011

It was widely reported that during a presidential primary debate a few weeks ago, the audience cheered at the idea that a young, uninsured patient should die if he didn't have the means to pay for needed healthcare. In truth, it seems the noise was limited to a few yahoo hecklers, but I think it's pretty shocking that anyone would react that way.

In 2010, 49.9 million Americans, or 16.3% of the total population, were uninsured. Some, like the so-called young invincibles — those healthy twenty-somethings — may eschew health insurance as unnecessary. Others simply can't afford or don't have the option to buy health insurance.

The uninsured have become a catch-all for almost everything wrong in healthcare today. The uninsured are said to lack any "skin in the game" — meaning they don't pay premiums or copays  — so they use healthcare services without consideration for cost. Bad hospital bottom line? Blame the uninsured for using services they can't afford. Crowded ER? That's the uninsured using the ER as their doctor's office — and for free, too. Health insurance premiums increase? Providers are demanding higher reimbursements for services for the insured to cover medical care for the uninsured.

And how about this one: Dissatisfied with your private health insurance? Blame the uninsured. Yep, according to a recent study, there are what researchers call "spillover effects" of community uninsurance on the healthcare received by the insured.

Two RAND researchers analyzing data from 86,900 privately insured adults and Medicare enrollees living in 200 large metropolitan areas found that the more uninsured people in an area, the more likely everyone will have trouble receiving needed care.

Margaret Dick Tocknell Margaret Dick Tocknell is a reporter/editor with HealthLeaders Media.
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