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Monday, February 27, 2012

How Medical Insurance Impacts Access to Health Care in the United States

Without Insurance Access to Health Care is Limited in the United States
Why the Insurance Model Was Chosen for Increasing Health Care Access
One of the things I learned while a student at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine was that people who lacked health insurance also lacked reliable health care. Let us review some of the national data in this regard. In my fifty-state analysis I reviewed the following components for individual health care measures: evidence of employer based health insurance, the state uninsured population, infant mortality and other clinical outcomes. Listed below are the top performers for the criteria, as well as the laggards.

States with the Highest Levels of Health Insurance, Public or Private
Using the latest Kaiser Family Foundation Insurance Survey , the 2010 results show the number one state for health insurance coverage is Massachusetts, with 95% reporting health insurance plans. Massachusetts has been the model for the national insurance exchanges because its state mandate has achieved near universal coverage and is self supporting. Other states deserving honorable mention for securing health insurance for 90% of their residents include: Hawaii, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

States with the Lowest Levels of Health Insurance, Public or Private
Women ages 19-64

In the same survey, the worst state for provision of medical insurance either public or private was Texas, with only 70% of its women reporting medical insurance coverage. The national average for insured women was 80% at the time of the survey. Florida reported that 74% of its adult women had medical coverage. A host of states reported only 75% of their adult female populations had medical insurance including: Arkansas, Mississippi, Nevada, and New Mexico.
Men ages 19-64
The national average for men with medical insurance was 76% by 2010. For Texas men only 65% had medical insurance. Other low fliers for men with medical insurance were: Georgia (71%), New Mexico (67%), and Florida (69%).
Children <18
Across the nation only 50% of our children had health insurance provided through their parent’s place of work. Though 90% of the nation’s children have medical insurance now, 36% of that figure is provided by public programs like Medicaid. For the children’s health survey, Texas also posted an equally poor level of insured children, the lowest in the nation, with 17% of the state’s children lacking medical insurance. This is despite the federally subsidized Children’s Health Insurance Program, so is Texas failing to enroll its children or are their parents making too much money to qualify?
Other states with high levels of an uninsured children included Florida (16%), Nevada (16%), and Arizona (15%). You would think Nevada could come up with something creative like a gambling tax to subsidize health insurance for its residents. Why do some of these states have so many more children without health insurance?
Cost of Deferred Health Care
Since the United States has chosen to finance its health care through a public and private system, the lack of payment for services for the uninsured gets allocated to hospitals and insurance plans. The federal insurance mandate is an attempt to stave the high costs for hospitals and communities from serving the uninsured population. Those states with higher levels of uninsured individuals mean that more health care is either delayed or delivered in emergency settings. Additionally, uninsured patients are not receiving preventive or basic health care. States that are laissez faire place a disproportionate burden on their hospitals to serve uninsured patients and this impacts the overall health care safety net.
Clinical Outcomes
If evidence of insurance is a factor in securing better health care, let’s see what the clinical data shows for these states. Infant mortality is an indication of prenatal and postnatal care and here are the infant deaths per 1,000 babies for the states with high levels of insurance, versus the low levels. These infant mortality rates are drawn from the 2009 Kaiser Foundation Survey. Infant mortality is just one measure of childhood health, but in adherence to brevity I am not going to list the other metrics I used in my full scorecard evaluation.
Infant Mortality
Best in class for both percentage of the population covered for insurance (95%) and the lowest infant mortality rate in the nation at 4.9 deaths is Massachusetts. Way to go mother Mass! This makes their prenatal and postnatal care equal to most of Europe, which is a high standard. And here is how the other well-insured states ranked for infant mortality per 1,000 babies: Hawaii-6.1 deaths, Vermont-5.6, and Wisconsin-6.3. Now let us compare this metric to the states which reported the lowest levels of children with health insurance and here are the infant deaths per 1,000: Texas-6.3, Florida- 7.2, Nevada-6.2, and Arizona-6.6. When you compare the average infant mortality of the states with higher insurance levels to those without, there is a difference of nearly one life per 1,000 babies, which is significant. Also, in case you don’t know, the United States infant mortality rate on average is 47th in the world, behind all of Europe and most of the developed world. And if you don’t already feel bad enough, some countries, including Singapore boast an infant mortality rate which is one third of the U.S. average at 2.31 deaths per 1,000 babies.

As we listen to the harping about Americans not having a right to basic health care, bear in mind that the United States has the highest percentage of children living in poverty in the industrialized world, at nearly one fourth (24%) of our child population. You have to ask yourself, what do our nation’s children have a right to in this wealthy country?

For more information on 50-state performance metrics come to the Northwest Women’s Show on March 2nd to hear excerpts from my book, Unraveling U.S. Health Care.

This article was written by Robert E. Winter, MHA, MPA and may be reprinted with her permission, but feel free to share it virally.

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