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Nobody should die because they can't afford health care

Two weeks ago, tens of thousands of people on Facebook updated their status messages to reflect their views on health care reform. This is what I posted: “No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. Demand single-payer, universal coverage for all. If you agree, post this as your status all day.”

The reality is that many people do die because they can’t afford health care. And now, a new study in today’s American Journal of Public Health says the numbers are a lot higher than we thought. The study estimates that 35,327 to 44,789 people between the ages of 18 and 64 die in the U.S. each year because they lack heath insurance. That’s more than double the previous estimate made by the Institute of Medicine in 2002.

One reason for the increase is that whereas the Institute of Medicine found that the uninsured were 25 percent more likely to die than those with insurance, the new study says the real number is closer to 40 percent.

At Public Citizen, we believe that the only true way to provide coverage for all is through a single-payer program administered through the federal government.

“Lack of health insurance is not simply a matter of mounting bills or deferred care,” said Peter Lurie, deputy director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen. “It is potentially a matter of life and death. The study makes a compelling case for providing health insurance coverage to all.”

One of the co-authors of the journal study, puts it into perspective:

“The Institute of Medicine, using older studies, estimated that one American dies every 30 minutes from lack of health insurance,” said David Himmelstein, a study co-author, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and primary care physician at the Cambridge Health Alliance. “Even this grim figure is an underestimate – now one dies every 12 minutes.”

Himmelstein is a co-founder of Physicans for a National Health Program, which is a great resource for information on single-payer.