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Study: More health insurance in Massachusetts leads to fewer deaths

Health Care and Health Insurance
by Dave Palmer
Study: More health insurance in Massachusetts leads to fewer deaths
Study: More health insurance in Massachusetts leads to fewer deaths

It stands to reason that a healthier population, generally, is one that tends to live longer, but there has been some debate about exactly how much of an impact broader access to health insurance would have for consumers nationwide. However, a new study may shed some light on the subject.

Massachusetts began mandating that all state residents  have some kind of health insurance (or else face hefty fines) in 2006. Since that time, the state's mortality rate for people between the ages of 20 and 64 years old has declined 2.9 percent, when compared with states of similar populations which did not enact such health care changes, according to a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health. In all, it's estimated that the almost universal coverage provided under the new law - enacted by then-governor Mitt Romney - saved one life for every 830 people who got insurance as a result. Altogether, it seems to have prevented about 320 deaths per year.

Benjamin Sommers, an assistant professor of health policy and economics for HSPS and the lead author of the study noted that many of these prevented deaths came, not surprisingly, as a result of the reduction of more or less preventable health issues, such as infections and cardiovascular disease, as well as cancer.

Why is this important?
In addition to helping to save the lives of hundreds of Massachusetts residents every year, this change might carry a greater significance because that new health care system was used, in many ways, as the model for the coverage mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the report said. As such, this data could point to the fact that the ACA end up having a massive positive impact on health quality across the country. In general, the reason that there was so much improvement in this regard is that the Massachusetts law, like the ACA, reduced cost treatment and increased the use of outpatient care.

Health insurers might end up seeing this as a very positive sign, because if more people have access to affordable coverage, the quality of health for their overall client pool is likely to go up. That, in turn, might serve to reduce risk - and therefore cost - overall, which would be a boon for insurers' bottom lines going forward. 

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