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Thousands of U.S. Deaths Attributed to Lack of Health Insurance

By Sara Lubbes, CQ Staff

January 11, 2008 -- As many as 27,000 Americans may have died in 2006 because they did not have health insurance, a new study estimates.

The study by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit group that analyzes social and economic problems, puts a new spin on a six-year-old Institute of Medicine (IOM) study that found that 18,000 people died in 2001 because of a lack of insurance.

The Urban Institute study suggests as many as 21,000 people may have died from a lack of insurance in 2001.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, study lead author Stan Dorn, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute, compared the IOM's method for calculating the number of uninsured to an alternative method he believes more accurately reflects the number of Americans who die because they do not have insurance.

Using the IOM's method on data from 2000 to 2006, researchers found that about 137,000 people likely died because of a lack of insurance, including 22,000 people in 2006.

But using an alternative method, researchers found that as many as 165,000 people likely died within that time period, with 27,000 people dying in 2006. The number is about 20 percent higher than the IOM method would reflect.

Dorn explained why the numbers differ: The IOM calculation is based on breaking the census data out by age groups—such as ages 25 to 34 and 35 to 44—and factoring in a suggested health research standard that the lack of insurance increases a person's likelihood of death by 25 percent, Dorn explained.

For his alternative calculation, he also used the 25 percent figure but eliminated the age group breakdown and used as his base number the total number of American deaths for each year of census data. The new calculation results were 20 percent higher than the IOM methodology.

"Even that could be an underestimation," he said. Some studies have shown that the likelihood of death might be closer to 40 percent for the uninsured, he said.

"This is all a question of common sense," Dorn said. "Nowadays we know that medicine can save your life and if you have to choose between food and medicine, for instance, you're playing Russian Roulette with your health."

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