Conservatives have been asserting this past week that having health insurance is really not that important. Mitt Romney has mentioned in a couple of interviews than people do not die because have health insurance; if someone gets ill, they always can get taken care off in the emergency room.
There is a small problem with this statement: it is completely wrong. Take, for example, this recent study from a team of researchers at John Hopkins comparing mortality rates after having a heart attack or stroke: the uninsured had a risk of death 31% higher than those with private coverage after the heart attack.
Both patients, insured and uninsured, went to the hospital and were treated. As Sarah Kliff points out, however, the uninsured were much more likely to have skkiped out on preventive care, meaning that their health was much worse before the stroke / heart attack, and they were not able to afford the follow up treatment after:
In this analysis, insurance status is likely a proxy for access to care and subsequent poor or incomplete management of cardiovascular risk factors among those with CVD. The phenomena associated with being underinsured, including insurance instability, problems with clinics accepting payments, and inability to afford medications, may be some of the factors that define this high-risk group and contribute to poor disease management.
This is only one study of several. Brian Beutler points at several others. A recent report published on the American Journal of Public Health estimates that lack of health insurance is associated with as many as 44,000 deaths per year in the United States, ore than those caused by kidney disease.
As a senior policymaker put it not long ago (video):
There ought to be enough money to help people get insurance because an insured individual has a better chance of having an excellent medical experience than the one who has not. An insured individual is more likely to go to a primary care physician or a clinic to get evaluated for their conditions and to get early treatment, to get pharmaceutical treatment, as opposed to showing up in the emergency room where the treatment is more expensive and less effective than if they got preventive and primary care.
That was Mitt Romney in April 2006, in a presentation before the Chamber of Commerce, by the way.