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45,000 Deaths Annually Linked to Lack of Health Coverage

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, September 17, 2009

The study found a 40% increased risk of death among the uninsured. As expected, death rates were also higher for males (37%), current or former smokers (102% and 42%), people who said that their health was fair or poor (126%), and those that examining physicians said were in fair or poor health (222%).

"This is actually a life and death struggle," said another study author, Steffie Woolhandler, MD, MPH. She noted that the current healthcare reform bills under discussion in Congress still leave millions without coverage.

"When we talk about leaving 20 or 30 million Americans with no health coverage, we're saying we as a nation—or whoever is proposing [reform legislation] is saying—it's really acceptable for 20,000 or 30,000 people to die each year from the lack of health insurance."

"That's actually more people than die from homicide in this country, more people who die from drunk driving in this country," said Woolhandler, who is a staff physician and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "I think it's completely unacceptable for congressmen and senators to accept that many uninsured people."

Wilper and Woolhandler are co-founders of Physicians for a National Health Program, which calls for single payer national health insurance. They have produced other notable studies which have shown that 31% of health spending is for administrative costs, and 62% of all bankruptcies are linked to medical expenses.

Wilper says their advocacy for single payer doesn't undermine their study's findings. "This is a peer review journal article. This is a finding that is consistent with the bulk and mass majority of published studies in the United States," he says. "Ad hominem attacks on the study's findings won't carry much weight."

"I'm hoping it will shake up the debate in Washington," said Woolhandler.

Editor's Note: John Commins contributed to this article.


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Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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