Measuring the Overall Health of a Society through Insurance

The Census Bureau estimates that 47 million Americans are uninsured. Another 2003 report revealed that an additional 16 million are underinsured, meaning that they have insufficient coverage to pay for catastrophic illnesses or accidents. The dearth of universal access to quality healthcare is already a political issue, but its repercussions extend far beyond the political realm. In reality, the lack of health insurance is also a societal and public health issue. Consequently, the level of insurance coverage for a population is an accurate metric by which to judge the health of that society as a whole. In this post, we’ll explain in further detail why insurance coverage is so fundamental to the quality of life and health of a society.

Health Insurance & Mortality

Multiple studies have confirmed the correlation between access to quality healthcare and mortality rates. For instance, the American Cancer Society reports that one in ten cancer patients lacks insurance. As a result, of the 560,000 Americans who will die from cancer this year, 36,377 of those cancer patients will die without health insurance. Even cancer patients with health insurance often are left with colossal medical bills because their policies would not cover life-saving treatments.

Another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined the relationship between the lack of health insurance and the resulting mortality risk. The researchers followed adults older than 25 lacking health insurance for 16 years. As a control group, adults with health insurance were also followed for the same amount of time. By the conclusion of the follow-up period, 18.4% of the uninsured group had died, compared to only 9.6% of the insured. In other words, the lack of health insurance almost doubled the participants’ risk of mortality.

Quality Matters

The insurance status of a population is not the only factor impacting the overall health of a society. For many reasons, the quality of coverage also heavily influences societal health and productivity. Despite repeated efforts to encourage insurers to provide mental health parity in their coverage, some policies still do not offer a comparable level of coverage for mental health issues as they do for physical ones. This is a myopic strategy on several levels. For one, mental health issues often carry over into the physical realm, manifesting in a bevy of somatic symptoms. In fact, between 50%-70% of visits to primary care physicians are for medical complaints stemming from a psychological issue. By not offering coverage for the root of these physiological symptoms, insurers are actually costing themselves and society more money and negatively impacting the health of society as a whole. Secondly, according to the APA, between 15%-18% of the U.S. population suffers from a mental disorder. With mental illness affecting such a significant portion of the population, insurers are neglecting a large number of their policyholders by not offering adequate mental health coverage.

The issue of coverage quality impacts more than societal health, however. Productivity is also profoundly affected by untreated psychological problems. For example, the American Psychological Association reported that 60% of employee absences are due to psychological problems. Clearly, the lack of insurance coverage and the quality of coverage for those who have insurance affect nearly every aspect of a society, from overall health to employee productivity.

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