Trying to get by without health coverage could increase the risk that about 200 relatively high-income American baby boomers will die this year.
That estimate is based on figures in a new study that suggests that U.S. residents ages 45 to 64 who lacked health coverage in 2006 suffered about 16,000 excess deaths.
If those figures are correct, they mean lack of health coverage may have contributed to the deaths in 2006 of about 1 in every 700 of the 11 million Americans ages 45 to 64 who were uninsured that year.
By way of comparison, motor vehicle accidents kill about 1 in every 6,200 Americans of all ages each year, according to the National Safety Council, Washington.
Stan Dorn, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, Washington prepared the study. He came up with his figures by feeding recent census data into an equation that the Institute of Medicine, Washington, developed in 2002 to gauge the effects of uninsurance on mortality.
The estimates in the new paper “should be viewed as reasonable indicators of the general magnitude of excess mortality that results from lack of insurance, not as precise ‘body counts,’” Dorn writes. “The true number of deaths resulting from uninsurance may be somewhat higher or lower than the estimates in this paper, but that number is surely significant.”
Although Dorn did not include a boomer category in his paper, he did break out figures for Americans ages 45 to 54 and for Americans ages 55 to 64.
The developers of the IOM equation Dorn used started by relying on the observation that mortality is about 25% higher among uninsured Americans than among uninsured America. Some researchers have suggested that factors such as smoking and alcoholism among uninsured people may account for the mortality gap, but other researchers have found that a link between insurance status and mortality risk remains even after researchers control for a wide variety of variables, Dorn writes.
Health insurers and producers often talk about the role of the products they sell in improving Americans’ well being, but the numbers in the Dorn study helped back up the anecdotes with figures.
Tim McTavish, president of InsureMe Inc., Englewood, Colo., a Web-based insurance quote service, says he has been convinced all along that health insurance saves lives.
“We can’t let Americans think they can’t afford health insurance, or that they can get by without it,” McTavish says. “One of the reasons we love coming to work is we love helping these people get insured.”
Janet Trautwein, a former health insurance agent who is CEO of the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., says NAHU members are pleased to be able to help protect boomers with health insurance but are troubled that uninsurance rates remain so high. “One of our top priorities is to get people insured.”
Dorn does not break down the excess mortality rate for uninsured Americans by income in his paper.