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Study: ER Safety Net Has Big Holes

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NU Online News Service, Jan. 28, 3:45 p.m. – Having health insurance can be a matter of life or death for victims of automobile accidents, according to a study by Joseph Doyle Jr., a labor economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Doyle found that accident victims who lack health insurance receive 20% less treatment in hospitals and are 37% more likely to die of their injuries than victims with health coverage.

Doyle based his study on data collected in Wisconsin. He controlled for factors such as age, accident severity and seat belt use.

Victims of serious accidents almost always end up in the hospital, regardless of their income level or other characteristics. Doyle focused on accident victims in an effort to find a relatively pure example of the value of health insurance, according to a summary of his paper released by MIT.

Most other studies of the uninsured also show that the uninsured get less care, but those studies fail to control for the possible effects that factors such as low income and decisions not to seek care might have on outcomes, according to the MIT summary.

“Emergency rooms are not as much of a safety net as people think,” Doyle says in a statement about his study. “The uninsured still get a lot of care, but are less likely to receive the expensive critical treatments that can save lives.”

If consumers realized how weak the “emergency room safety net” is for the uninsured, they might be more likely to buy at least enough insurance to protect themselves against catastrophic accidents, Doyle says.