Health Insurance Saves Lives

A new study proves that health insurance makes people live longer. It isn’t just an observation that proves a correlation. It’s an experiment that proves a causal relationship. In 2017, the IRS wanted to send letters to 4.5 million households that had paid a tax penalty under Obamacare for not getting health insurance. The letters would encourage them to get it. But the IRS only had a budget to send 3.9 million letters. With some quick thinking, they turned a bureaucratic obstacle into a valuable trial. They randomly chose who got the letters and then measured whether those people got insurance and whether they died.

People who got the letters were 1.3 percentage points more likely to get insurance than people who didn’t. That’s one extra person with health insurance for every 77 letters sent. The people who got the letter were 0.06 percentage points less likely to die over two years, one less death per 1,648 letters sent. The total cost of printing and mailing each letter was 49 cents. Every $807.52 saved a life. Incredible.

But forget about letters from the IRS. How much does actually getting insurance help people? The full dataset covered not just who had any insurance, but who had how many months of insurance. Using all that date, the authors estimate that a single month of health insurance reduced the probability of dying over the two year experiment by 0.18 percentage points. In the control group, 1.0% died over the same period, so that’s a huge 18% reduction in the relative risk of dying. The authors caution that the benefit of health insurance doesn’t grow linearly in how long people had it (that would imply that someone who got health insurance for two full years had a negative mortality rate, total nonsense). They speculate that people “catch up” on health care as soon as they get health insurance. Even if the benefit of having health insurance all the time is no bigger than having it one out of every 24 months, an 18% reduction in death is still huge.

I was already a huge proponent of universal healthcare. Now I’ll tilt even further towards being a single-issue healthcare voter.


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