How Much Does Health Insurance Matter?

A number of studies claim to find that being uninsured leads to a higher mortality. Yet most of these studies fail to meet the minimal economists' standards for statistical inference. This is from a new Employment Policies Institute report by June and David O'Neill:

A significant fraction of the uninsured are in a financial position to purchase their own insurance, and we refer to them as the voluntarily uninsured. The remainder are the involuntarily uninsured, those with incomes that are low enough to make it unlikely that they could afford health insurance if they wanted to purchase it.

We define the voluntarily uninsured as those whose incomes are at or above 2.5 times the poverty threshold and find that about 43 percent of the uninsured in the 18-64 age group fall into that category.

We find that the higher probability of dying between 1992 and 2006 of the involuntarily uninsured compared to the privately insured is… 3 percentage points. The difference in mortality between the voluntarily uninsured and the privately insured is only… 2 percentage points.

Comments (6)

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  1. Devon Herrick says:

    I do not believe an individual mandate is necessary. Neither am I convinced it is a problem when people prefer to pay for care out-of-pocket, rather than purchase health coverage.
    It only becomes a problem when the uninsured rack up medical bills they cannot pay. A few dollars per month would buy a high-deductible policy — protecting families in the event of an unforeseen medical problem. Limited benefit plans are also inexpensive –- allowing people to see a doctor the few times per year most families actually need care.

    What I want to know is: how come Democrats not only want to force people to have coverage, but want to force people to have a particular kind of coverage? Why have we heard nothing about mandating high-deductible plans (sort of like auto liability insurance) or mandating limited benefit plans like are now used in TennCare?

  2. Ken says:

    Wonderful results! And of course they are being completely ignored by the mainstream media.

  3. Joe S. says:

    Agree with Ken. This is an incredible result. Thanks to the O’Neill’s for their excellent work and major contribution to health policy research.

  4. Larry C. says:

    This study needs wide distribution

  5. Neil H. says:

    There has been so much nonsense written on this subject. This is a breath of fresh air.

  6. Bart Ingles says:

    The exact definition of “involuntarily uninsured” may be suitable for purposes of the study, but needs refinement before use as a general term.

    Still, the study effectively debunks the myth that the 47 million uninsured are a monolithic bloc that must all be covered at once or they’re all going to die. In fact this group comprises several segments that require different solutions, which can be prioritized.

    The segment that this study calls “involuntarily uninsured” really refers to the impoverished. These don’t need an overhaul of the health care system, they simply need financial support. We should provide what we can afford, no more and no less.

    As for the rest, the first order of business should be to facilitate a stable system that doesn’t continually add to the pool of uninsured. Then we can find ways to begin bringing the dispossessed back into the fold. Adult passengers should strap on their own oxygen mask first before assisting those nearby, and plug the leaks before expending all their energy bailing (I’m thinking of a Catalina flying boat).