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More Evidence That Health Insurance Really Does Save Lives

Timely new research strengthens the link between coverage and mortality.

The newly unveiled Senate legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare will cost lives. At least, that's an oft-repeated talking point by its opponents. The left-leaning Center for American Progress has estimated its passage would result in 18,000 to 27,000 additional deaths over the next decade.

Sobering numbers, but is there solid evidence that having insurance really saves lives? New research gives an answer: absolutely.

"A mounting body of evidence indicates that lack of health insurance decreases survival," Steffie Woolhander of the City University of New York and David Himmelstein of Harvard Medical School write in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

They examined research conducted since a 2002 Institute of Medicine review concluded that a lack of insurance increases mortality. It estimated that more than 18,000 American adults die annually because of a lack of insurance.

The new evidence "supports and strengthens its conclusion that insurance coverage improves mortality in several specific conditions (including trauma and breast cancer), augments the use of recommended care, and improves several measures of health status," the researchers write.

Woolhander and Himmelstein describe the findings of a number of studies. Among their findings: "Most, but not all, analyses of data from the longitudinal Health and Retirement Study have found that coverage in the near-elderly slowed health decline and decreased mortality."

Furthermore, "The two National Health and Nutrition Examination Study analyses which include physicians' assessments of baseline health, show substantial mortality improvements associated with coverage."

In addition, they note that two studies—one in the United States and one in Canada—"compared mortality trends in matched locales with and without coverage expansions. All three found large reductions in mortality associated with increased coverage."

"Overall, the case for coverage is strong," they conclude. That's worth keeping in mind as the current debate unfolds.