October 1 marked the roll out of insurance exchanges across the country and one of the goals of the exchanges are to provide affordable insurance coverage to those who do not have coverage from Medicare, Medicaid or an employer sponsored plan. The federal government will subsidize the cost of participating in a health insurance exchange based on a person’s earnings. For example, an individual with a family earning $50,000.00/year can purchase insurance through the exchange for as little as $54.00/month.
The expansion of Medicaid in Missouri is still up for debate and 25 states have already decided to expand Medicaid. Once Medicaid expansion occurs in every state it is possible that every US citizen could have health insurance and that’s important. There’s been a lot of talk about dollar savings from more access to affordable health insurance and the thought process is that people with health insurance will treat illness before it becomes chronic and better control illness that is chronic which will in turn reduce health care spending. The savings that haven’t been talked about enough are the lives that might be saved.
Victims of auto accidents are more likely to live if they have health insurance. Why? Because they get more treatment. Similar results are seen in neonates who were just under the weight threshold that classified them as “very low birth weight” babies (and thus got really intensive treatment), versus those who were just above the threshold, and thus got somewhat less intensive treatment. Babies who had more intensive treatment had a better chance of survival. Victims of auto accidents who had insurance tended to get more intensive treatment thus had a better chance of survival. A similar conclusion can be made when looking at Florida tourists who got sick on vacation (looking at tourists takes out of the equation the opportunity for some people to have access to care close to home). All of the tourisits were wealthy, healthy and together enough to go on vacation. When those tourists got sick near hospitals that treated a lot they had better outcomes than folks who got sent to places that did less. All of this information was part of a report from MIT.
The conclusion: more treatment equals better outcomes. This also means that health insurance is very valuable because those with health insurance are more likely to get more treatment either by choice or by chance. The value of health insurance can be measured in dollars and cents but it can also be measured in lives saved.