Expand health insurance access, save lives

05/07/2014 6:36 PM

05/07/2014 6:36 PM

There has been a spate of recent good news about the Affordable Care Act. Insurers report that 80 percent of the consumers who enrolled in the insurance exchanges have paid their initial premiums, for instance.

But the most compelling affirmation comes from an academic study showing the death rate dipped significantly when Massachusetts began requiring everyone to have health care coverage.

These findings make the refusal of the Missouri and Kansas legislatures to expand Medicaid eligibility for thousands of low-income working adults all the more shameful.

Mortality in Massachusetts decreased by about 3 percent in the four years after its health care law took effect in 2006, based on research by a team at the Harvard School of Public Health. The most positive results were in counties with the highest proportions of poor and previously insured persons.

One of the authors, Katherine Baicker, also worked on a study that found access to Medicaid in Oregon improved mental health and financial stability but not certain health indicators, such as blood pressure or cholesterol readings.

Opponents of “Obamacare” jumped on the Oregon study as an argument against expanded health insurance. But the Massachusetts study was larger and designed to gauge mortality effects. Massachusetts created insurance exchanges and began mandating coverage three years before President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.

“Putting the evidence together paints a very strong picture that expanding insurance substantially improves the well-being of people who get it,” Baicker told The New York Times.

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that lives are saved when people are able to see a doctor regularly and follow a treatment plan.

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