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Report Bolsters Lack Of Health Care, Premature Death Link

By DIANE LEVICK | Courant Staff Writer

April 03, 2008

Three adults die prematurely each week in Connecticut on average because they lack health insurance, and more than 1,100 died over seven years, says a new report that's likely to weigh on consciences in the debate over health care reform.

The estimates focus on uninsured residents aged 25 to 64 from 2000 through 2006 and will be released today by Families USA, a 25-year-old organization that advocates affordable health care for all Americans.

Dozens of previous studies have found that people without health insurance tend to forgo preventive care and tests and postpone or forgo care when they have a medical problem.

Families USA builds on two previous national studies on the same subject. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine estimated that 18,000 adults nationwide die prematurely each year because they don't have insurance; the estimate of the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy research group, was at least 22,000 in 2006.

Families USA is the first to do a state-by-state look at the anguishing statistics, which consumer advocates and public officials hope will bring more urgency to the push for health care and insurance reform.

"As this report demonstrates, a lack of health insurance has immense repercussions twice as many people died from lack of health insurance as died from homicide in 2006," said U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District. "This is shocking and is further evidence that we can no longer delay addressing this country's growing health care crisis."

Although DeLauro was referring to national homicide data, her comment holds true for Connecticut, too.

Families USA estimates that 150 Connecticut adults died in 2006 due to a lack of insurance, and FBI statistics show 108 murders in the state that year.

The report shows "universal health care is a matter of life and death for a number of people, said Juan A. Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut. "Needless to say, one life to lose is too many."

Families USA has been rolling out data from various states in recent weeks, and some are faring worse than Connecticut. The organization's website ( www.familiesusa.org), shows Arkansas, for instance, has a much higher rate of uninsured adults and had an estimated 390 deaths in 2006 linked to lack of insurance.

Families USA based its methodology on previous studies, which reported that uninsured adults are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely than adults with private insurance. Families USA used Connecticut-specific data on population, overall mortality rate, and the rate of uninsured here about 11 percent of the 25- to 64-year-olds in 2006. That comes out to roughly 210,000.

Public officials weren't surprised at the number of deaths linked to lack of insurance.

The report "shines a very bright light on the consequences of underinsurance and the uninsured," said Kevin Lembo, state health care advocate in Connecticut.

"This is about real families and real people dying," Lembo said. "Hopefully it will motivate us to continue moving forward through what can be a very difficult process" of reform.

State Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, predicted that the Families USA report will have some impact because "each additional bit of information fuels the momentum to find a way to plug the holes in our system."

He cautioned, though, that "the toll for the percentage of the population without insurance is far greater than the three people a week who die." Many people live without coverage but suffer physically and end up in emergency rooms, said Roraback, who is a ranking member of the public health committee and deputy minority leader pro tempore.

Officials publicly and privately doubt that Connecticut's General Assembly will pass much additional health care reform in the short session this year. Last year, legislators approved about $400 million. Some of that was to expand the state's HUSKY insurance program for children and low-income families, and some was o increase Medicaid reimbursement to doctors and hospitals to improve access to care.

Roraback said that given the state's budgetary limitations and the economy, he doesn't "anticipate dramatic reform in this session."

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said states can't do it alone, anyway, and bipartisan efforts on the federal level must play a role. The presidential candidates, he noted, have said health care reform deserves to be a top priority.

"When the new president and Congress come to Washington in 2009, I think this may be an historic opportunity to actually make significant improvements,' Pollack said.

"This issue has been a political minefield in the last 15 years," said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. "I do think political pressure is building to something like we saw in the early 1990s."

The Families USA report doesn't address the issue of people with inadequate insurance such as high deductibles and cost-sharing which also leads to people delaying or going without care, said Vicki Veltri, general counsel in Connecticut's Office of the Healthcare Advocate.

"It's not just about having [an insurance] card," she said. "It's about the quality of the benefits."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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