The Massachusetts State House (TS)

(Bloomberg) — Expanding health insurance coverage in Massachusetts helped reduce the likelihood that residents ages 20 to 64 would die, researchers report.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney managed efforts to implement the program, which started to take effect in 2006.

During the period from 2007 through 2010, the death rate for working-age adults was about 3 percent lower than it was from 2001 through 2005, according to researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Health.

The researchers calculate that the Massachusetts coverage expansion program prevented about 320 deaths a year, or one life saved for every 830 people who gained insurance.

The program lowered the risk of premature death for a person who gained health insurance by about 30 percent, the authors said.

The researchers found no similar decline in the rate of premature death in other states that had not set up coverage expansion programs.

The study appears behind a paywall at the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Backers of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) coverage expansion programs said they based the programs on the RomneyCare effort.

Benjamin Sommers, a lead study author, said the decline in mortality was largest in Massachusetts counties with lower incomes and higher uninsured rates before the changes.

“Our results suggest that health insurance matters a lot for people’s lives,” Sommers, an assistant professor of health policy and economics at Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston, said in a telephone interview. “It makes it easier for them to get the care they need, they feel better about their health and they live longer. The evidence is mounting that giving people health insurance who didn’t have it before makes a major difference in their lives.”

–With assistance from Alex Wayne in Washington.

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