Study: Lack of health insurance causes thousands of Californians to die prematurely

by Stephanie O'Neill, 89.3 KPCC

As the nation awaits the historic Supreme Court ruling on the Obama administration’s health care law, a new report released Wednesday says California leads the nation in the number of premature deaths caused primarily by lack of health insurance.

The report by the national consumer health care group Families USA is called ‘Dying for Coverage.’

It’s built upon a 2002 study by the Institute of Medicine that linked lack of health insurance to premature deaths. Using those same research methods, Families USA researchers estimate that 3,164 uninsured Californians between the ages of 25 and 64 died prematurely in 2010 because they lacked health insurance.

The report’s authors say the uninsured are far more likely to defer care because of economic reasons, and it’s that delay in treatment that makes them more likely to die early.

"The key reason that people defer getting care is they feel they can’t afford to get the care," said Ron Pollack, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based organization. "So when people defer a problem that might have been dealt with early and in an easy way, it gets worse."

It’s only after the medical condition worsens and untenable pain sends patients to the emergency room that federal law entitles the uninsured to treatment, said Pollack. He is also a supporter of the federal Affordable Care Act.

But John Graham, director of health care studies at the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute, disagrees.

"What they fail to recognize is Obamacare has suppressed the economy," Graham said. "Businesses are not investing are not hiring. So Obamacare is actually a cause of unemployment, which leads to uninsurance, which leads to the problems [Families USA is] talking about.’

The Families USA study says nationwide 26,000 Americans died prematurely in 2010 because they did not have health insurance coverage.