High Health Insurance Costs, High Uninsurance, High Preventable Mortality – New Studies on the U.S. Health System

Health insurance costs for families in the United States have increased by 9% over the past year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual employer health benefits survey, released yesterday.

The sharp increase in private health insurance cost, outstripping previous increases, comes on the heels of the U.S. Census reporting an increase in the number of uninsured people to almost 50 million, and a Commonwealth Fund study finding that 84,300 lives could have been saved if the U.S. health care system had improved at the same rate as systems in other countries.

The clear link between high costs, high levels of uninsurance and underinsurance, and high rates of preventable deaths illustrates once again how the right to health is denied to people in the United States. The commodification of health care within a private, for-profit insurance model is accompanied by a complete disregard for health outcomes, which is prevalent even in discussions that deplore cost increases.

The New York Times, for example, offered this dry analysis of the Kaiser survey findings:
“Throughout this year, major health insurers have defended higher premiums – and higher profits – saying that their expenses would rise once the economy recovered and people believed they could again afford medical care. The struggling economy will probably keep suppressing demand for medical care, particularly as people pay a larger share of their own medical bills through higher deductibles and co-payments, according to benefits consultants and others. About three-quarters of workers now pay part of the bill when they go see a doctor, and nearly a third have a deductible of at least $1,000 if they have single coverage, up from just one in 10 in 2006, according Kaiser.”

The ‘suppressed demand for health care’ in fact contributes to making the United States “last among 16 high-income, industrialized nations when it comes to deaths that could potentially have been prevented with timely access to effective health care,” according to the Commonwealth Fund study.

Key Findings of the study:

  • Amenable mortality (preventable death) rates were lowest in France, with 55.0 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by Australia (56.9 per 100,000) and Italy (59.9 per 100,000). The highest levels were in the United States, with 95.5 deaths per 100,000 people.
  • Between 1997/98 and 2006/07, levels of amenable mortality fell by 30 percent or more in 10 of the 16 countries; however, the rate in the U.S. fell by only 20.5 percent, the lowest level of decline.
  • If the U.S. had achieved levels of amenable mortality seen in the three best-performing countries, 84,300 fewer people under age 75 would have died in 2006–2007.

The authors conclude, unsurprisingly, that the United States’ poor performance compared with other countries may be attributable to “the lack of universal coverage and high costs of care.”