Republicans are fond of saying that everyone in America has access to health care, because anyone can go to an emergency room and receive treatment. “There is a misnomer out there, I think, there’s a misconception, that somehow or another… uninsured means that you have no health care,” Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) has said. “That’s not correct. Everyone in this country has access to health care.” This argument was most commonly deployed during the health reform debate, as conservatives tried to downplay the extent of the crisis by suggesting that everyone who needs care has access to it.
This line of argumentation has always struck me as a weak notch to hang your hat on, and now a new study suggests that it’s also deadly. A new review of intensive care units or ICUs in Pennsylvania finds that patients without insurance “were 21 percent more likely to die than insured patients“:
“Our findings suggest that ICU patients without insurance have a higher risk of death and receive less intense treatment in the ICU,” Dr. Sarah Lyon of the University of Pennsylvania, who led the study, said in a statement.
“Expanding and standardizing health care coverage through health care reform may improve outcomes in critically ill patients,” she added….”We still do not understand all the reasons for differences in survival between the insured and uninsured,” Lyon said.
“Critically ill patients without insurance may arrive to the hospital in more advanced stages of illness, perhaps in ways we could not control for in our study. Patients without insurance may also have different preferences for intensity of care at the end of life, and may not wish to be kept alive on life support as long as patients with insurance.” But there could be another reason, she said.
“Another, more concerning explanation is that physicians and hospitals treat patients without insurance differently than those with insurance. More work is needed before we can say with certainty that treatment biases caused these results.”
The analysis also found that patients with Medicaid had a 3% greater risk of death than patients with private insurance, suggesting that more needs to be done to improve access to doctors and improve quality standards.
The report also builds on an existing studies which found that thousands of Americans die every year because the lack health insurance coverage. “In September, Harvard Medical School researchers reported that nearly 45,000 people die in the United States each year because they lack health insurance.”