The current health-care debate is as serious as a heart attack. And if it ultimately results in fewer people having insurance, there's an excellent chance more Americans will suffer life-threatening cardiac arrest.
That's the clear implication of a pilot study just published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Focusing on Multnomah County, Oregon (which includes the city of Portland), it compared recorded cases of cardiac arrests over two time periods: immediately prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (2011–12) and just after (2014–15).
It found heart attack rates (excluding those experienced by hospitalized patients) decreased 17 percent among a key demographic: adults 45 to 64 years old. Among these middle-aged residents, the rate decreased from 102 per 100,000 people to 85 per 100,000 people.
In contrast, there was no significant change in the rate for people over 65, who were covered by Medicare during both time periods.
While the results do not prove that increased access to health care directly caused the drop, it's hard to think of any other explanation. The researchers note that, thanks to Medicaid expansion and a rise in "direct-purchase insurance," the percentage of middle-aged people in the county who lacked health insurance "declined abruptly" from nearly 16 percent in 2011 to under 8 percent in 2015.
"Cardiac arrest is a devastating and under-recognized cause of death for both men and women older than 45," Eric Stecker, the study's lead author, said in announcing the results. "Health insurance allows people to engage in regular medical care, which is crucial for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, and the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that can cause cardiac arrest."