45,000 Deaths per Year Linked to Lack of Health Insurance? It’s Their Fault for Being Lazy!

Or this is at least how I interpret Kiplinger‘s coverage of the health care debate. But let’s start from the beginning: A study by Harvard Medical School researchers has found that nearly 45,000 deaths every year can be linked to the lack of medical insurance and the inability of those lacking coverage to access good health care [link to Reuters story].

The final figure of almost 45,000 people has been obtained after analyzing data from 9,000 patients tracked by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. As all statistical results, it will be subject to some margin of error, but its implications can hardly be overstated:

  • Lack of medical insurance is responsible for more deaths than drunk driving and homicide combined.

  • According to the study, the uninsured have a 40% higher risk of death than the insured.

  • The finding adds to the factors that led to the US being ranked 37th in a recent World Health Organization health-care ranking, slightly better than Cuba and below all other industrialized countries.

And this takes me back to a disturbing paragraph I read in Kiplinger’s October 2009 editorial, where Janet Bodnar writes:

I received an e-mail from an interest group helpfully providing me with a list of horror stories from people who couldn’t get affordable health coverage. I forwarded the message to contributing editor Kim Lankford, our expert on health insurance -who proceeded to suggest solutions to all their problems. […] [She wrote back:] “I wonder how hard these people tried to find better deals”.

This, I have to admit, is a work of genius. With one single sentence, Ms. Lankford brushes aside the so-called horror stories of 45,000 people every year, including those of the freelance cameraman with a burst appendix; the 51-year-old mother with undiagnosed heart disease; and the 26-year-old with unusual fatigue who died lacking health insurance -these three cases were covered this morning on CNN’s front page [link to CNN’s “Dying from lack of health insurance”].


Let me state my position on this debate clearly: I don’t condone the use of scare tactics by any of the two sides. And I’m not acquainted enough with the latest version of Obama’s proposal for reform to say that it’s the perfect solution. I’m sure it isn’t. But I don’t have any doubt that our system is broken, and I’m glad that the possibility of reforming is at least being talked about.

To suggest that the people who don’t have health insurance and end up dying for it just aren’t trying hard enough to find bargain-priced plans in our “quite healthy market” -Kiplinger again- is outrageous. And guess what? In countries like the U.K. or France, which spend a much lower fraction of their GDP in health insurance than we do, how hard you look for affordable coverage isn’t even an issue, since every citizen has the complete coverage that only the richest in this country can afford.

So this is my message to Kiplinger: while you -hopefully- reflect on the wisdom of minimizing the health-care drama into a simple “people should try harder to find better deals”, I’m canceling my subscription. Please be a little more sensitive next time.


  • What’s your opinion on this issue? Is it true that all uninsured people could find affordable, quality care if they tried?