Group: Lack of insurance costs lives

WASHINGTON — More than five people die prematurely in Nevada each week because they lack health insurance, according to a report Thursday by a health advocacy group.

Families USA concluded that at least 290 people in Nevada between the ages of 25 and 64 died in 2006 because of a lack of coverage.

Uninsured adults are three times more likely to delay seeking medical care. They are diagnosed with disease at a more advanced stage, which is difficult and costly to treat, the group said.

More than 274,000 people in Nevada do not have a health care plan, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The human cost of inaction on this issue is going to be more deaths,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. “I’ve often said that the way we do health care in this country is ‘bass ackwards’.”

Uninsured people get most of their health care in the emergency room, said Ron Pollack, the group’s executive director. They are sick more often, go without needed medication and die earlier than people who are able to get regular care and screenings, he said.

“Our report highlights how our inadequate system of health coverage condemns a large number of Nevadans to an early death simply because they don’t have the same access to health coverage as other Nevadans,” Pollack said.

People without insurance are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who are covered, based on formulas growing from long-term studies reported in 2002 by the Institute of Medicine. The Urban Institute performed a similar study in 2008.

Families USA factored the percentage into Census Bureau population numbers and the number of people without insurance, and annual death rates broken down by state.

About 47 million Americans, including 8.7 million children, are uninsured, according to a 2007 U.S. Census Bureau report. The Urban Institute found about 137,000 people died from 2000 to 2006 from lack of insurance, including 22,000 people in 2006 alone.

Many Democrats in Congress are in favor of some form of universal health care but believe it will take a change in the White House to accomplish, Berkley said.

“In the long run, it would save billions of dollars of tax money and improve the quality of life,” she said.

Both Democratic candidates for president have offered health care plans that combine public and private services, which Pollack said was “very encouraging.”

Sen. Barack Obama would enlarge programs like Medicaid, subsidize public or private insurance plans and make health coverage for children mandatory.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has proposed a mandatory program that would enlarge programs like Medicaid and give employers incentives to cover their employees.

Republican candidate Sen. John McCain does not have a universal health care plan. He has proposed strategies to control health care costs, and has suggested tax credits of $2,500 to low-income individuals and $5,000 to families who buy their own coverage.

Nevada can also enact programs to help insure more people, said Bob Fulkerson, the executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

He suggested programs that would allow employed people with insurance to add an uninsured family or non-family member to their insurance or provide assistance to cover workers at small businesses.

“As long as we have a business-based system we need to help businesses so they can cover their employees,” Fulkerson said.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Sara Spivey at or (202) 783-1760.

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