Uninsured children and a rising death toll
Children without insurance are 60 percent more likely to die than their insured peers, according to a new study from Johns Hopkins researchers that argues that health care reform must protect the nation's most vulnerable.
The findings, published in the Oct. 30 issue of the Journal of Public Health, offer another sobering statistic: lack of insurance might have contributed nearly 17,000 deaths among children in the United States over the last two decades.
Researchers analyzed more than 23 million hospital records from 37 states between 1988 and 2005, comparing the risk of death in children with and without health coverage. When comparing death rates taking into account underlying disease, uninsured kids had a higher risk of dying regardless of their medical problems, researchers found.
The uninsured rate for children has been rising steadily for two decades causing some lawmakers to fight for expansion of the public insurance to low-income kids through the Children Health Insurance Program, which President Obama signed into law earlier this year. Last year, the rate and the number of uninsured children dipped to their lowest since 1987. Still, advocates are quick to point out, some 7.3 million children lack insurance nationwide.
Confronting the issue is a moral imperative, said researchers.
"Thousands of children die needlessly each year because we lack a health system that provides health insurance. This should not be," said Dr. Peter Provonost, director of Critical Care Medicine at Hopkins, in a statement. "In a country as wealthy as ours, the need to provide health insurance to the millions of children who lack it is a moral, not an economic issue."
The authors cautioned that the study has some big limitations, for instance: researchers examined hospital records after a child died, so they can't say for certain if there a direct cause and effect between lack of coverage and deaths. Still, they say, because of the large number of records studied, they can show a close link between children without coverage and their heightened risk of death.
"Can we say with absolute certainly that 17,000 children would have been saved if they had health insurance? Of course not," said Dr. David Chang. "The point here is that a substantial number of children may be saved by health coverage."
The study comes a month after Harvard researchers found that some 45,000 Americans die each year because of lack of health insurance.