Study Finds Many Health Benefits Linked to Having Health Insurance

Key Points

  • Having health insurance not only reduces the risk of death—with the odds of dying among the insured relative to the uninsured of 0.71 to 0.97—it improves self-rated health, provides financial protection, and decreases the likelihood of depression as well.
  • Currently, about 28 million people younger than age 65 are uninsured, compared with more than 48 million in 2010, before implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 28 million people younger than age 65 are uninsured, compared with more than 48 million in 2010, before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A review of current evidence concerning the relationship between health insurance and mortality has found that having health insurance not only reduces the risk of death—with the odds of dying among the insured relative to the uninsured of 0.71 to 0.97—it improves self-rated health, provides financial protection, and decreases the likelihood of depression as well. The study’s findings come as Congress debates changing the nation’s health-care system. The study by Woolhandler and Himmelstein was published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Study Methodology

Researchers from the City University of New York School of Urban Public Health at Hunter College and Harvard Medical School reviewed data found on PubMed and Google Scholar on different types of studies, including randomized controlled trials and population-based health surveys, assessing the relationship between health insurance and mortality. The researchers limited their scope to articles reporting data on the United States, quasi-experimental studies of insurance expansions in other wealthy nations, and recent cross-national studies and excluded most observational studies that compared uninsured persons to those with Medicaid, Medicare, or insured through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Study Findings

This study’s findings strengthen confidence in a 2002 study published by the Institute of Medicine, which concluded that health insurance saves lives, with the odds of dying among the insured related to the uninsured of 0.71 to 0.97. In addition to reducing the risk of death, the researchers found other well-established benefits of health insurance, including improved self-rated health, financial protection, and reduced likelihood of depression.

“Insurance is the gateway to medical care, whose aim is not just saving lives, but also the relief of human suffering,” wrote the study authors. “Overall, the case for [health insurance] coverage is strong,” they concluded.

David U. Himmelstein, MD, Professor of Public Health at the City University of New York (CUNY) at Hunter College and Visiting Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, is the corresponding author of this study. His coauthor, Steffie Woolhandler, MD, MPH, is Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Health Policy at CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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