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50 Million Uninsured in the U.S. Equals 50,000+ Avoidable Deaths a Year

January 2012

Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D.

The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau has shown that, as of 2010, there were 50 million people in this country lacking health insurance. A 2009 study by Harvard researchers found that there was an excess mortality of 40 percent in uninsured people — compared to people with health insurance — because they don’t have health insurance. Combining this with the lower number of people then uninsured, the researchers estimated that almost 45,000 people died each year from causes attributable to their uninsured status.

Based on the larger number of uninsured now compared to when the Harvard study was done, there is little question that the annual number of deaths occurring because of a lack of health insurance is well over 50,000, a toll exceeding the annual number of deaths from kidney disease. Why is this tolerated? The simple and unfortunately correct answer is because of the existence of the private health insurance industry and the hundreds of thousands of people who are not doctors, not nurses and not pharmacists — in short, not delivering any health care — but are being paid for their expertise in denying health care. Reliable estimates of the cost of the excessive administrative waste of this health-denying insurance industry set the amount at approximately$400 billion a year. This amount of money is more than sufficient to provide — to the tune of $8,000 per year, per person — the current 50 million uninsured with excellent health coverage.

It is now 40 years since the wiser country of Canada threw out its private health insurance industry after an extremely successful 10-year single payer (Medicare-for-All) program in Saskatchewan. Maybe we will also need to try this in a state in the U.S. before we are able to go national. But we better get going soon, before we sacrifice the lives of many more hundreds of thousands in this country.

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