While the nation’s attention remains focused on legal and political fights over health care reform, including an imminent ruling on the matter by the Supreme Court, a consumer advocacy organization notes that an invisible tragedy continues to play out nationwide for uninsured families who struggle to get the health care they need. A report released last week by Families USA reveals that more than 26,000 Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 died prematurely in 2010 because they did not have health coverage.

The reasons for a lack of coverage vary, according to the group. For example, many Americans have had coverage denied because of pre-existing health conditions. Others, particularly during the recent economic downturn, have been priced out of the insurance market as they have struggled to maintain homes and feed families in the face of continually-rising insurance premiums. Families USA also notes that many families have fallen victim to the decade-long decline in employer-sponsored coverage.

Other highlights from the report show that:

  • Between 2005 and 2010, the number of people who died prematurely due to a lack of health coverage each year rose from 20,350 to 26,100.
  • Between 2005 and 2010, the total number of people who died prematurely due to a lack of health coverage was 134,120.
  • Every state is affected by premature death due to a lack of health insurance. In 2010, the number of premature deaths due to a lack of health coverage ranged from 28 in Vermont to 3,164 in California.

One striking aspect of national health care delivery is the fact that the uninsured pay more for medical care mainly because they are unable to negotiate hospital and doctor visit discounts as insurance companies do, the group noted. As a result, uninsured Americans often go without screenings and preventive care, or they often delay or forgo needed medical care. These and other factors are said to result in uninsured Americans being sicker and dying earlier than those who have insurance.
“The Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress to address an American tragedy and an American shame,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, in a lengthy statement issued to announce the report. “The fact remains that for the millions of Americans without health coverage, only the Affordable Care offers the promise of access to affordable coverage and to a longer and healthier life.

“For almost 50 million Americans,” he continued, “not having health insurance isn’t trivial, or just an inconvenience or a minor budget challenge. Because of the way we currently provide and charge for health care, many millions of Americans without health coverage are denied regular access to quality care, and many of these people face an unjust sentence of a less healthy life and an earlier death.”

“Now the life of the Affordable Care Act itself has been put in jeopardy,” Pollack said. “Getting rid of the Affordable Care Act — as some seek — wipes out the broad access to coverage coming in 2014, when millions of Americans will be eligible for assistance with the cost of health coverage, and when insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or charge them higher premiums. The Affordable Care Act lets us wake up from this terrible health care nightmare of premature death. Wiping out health reform means the nightmare will continue for Californians and other Americans.”

The Families USA report, “Dying for Coverage,” is built on the methodology of a groundbreaking report released by the Institute of Medicine in 2002. That report, “Care without Coverage: Too Little, Too Late,” established the direct link between a lack of health coverage and premature death.

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