No health insurance is as deadly as smoking. Denying Medicaid matters.

cigarettesWe’ve known for decades that smoking is a huge health risk. It causes cancer of various sorts and is associated with higher rates of heart disease, strokes and emphysema.

But when you compare the health consequences of not having health insurance, it’s right up there with smoking.

According to a discussion of research literature by Prof. Joseph Feinglass of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the author or coauthor of 158 research papers, not having insurance has major health risks.

Feinglass writes:

Several recent nationally representative studies that followed late-middle-age adults into old age found that individuals who were uninsured died at younger ages than those of the same age and original health status who had private health insurance. The one-third greater mortality of older adults who lacked health insurance was roughly equivalent to the risk of smoking.

If we counted “lack of health insurance” in late middle age as a health risk, it would rank as the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. According to one recent study, between 35,000 and 45,000 Americans aged 18-64 die annually due to lack of health insurance. 

When people get insurance, their risk of premature death goes down. 

This happened when multiple states, including Maine, expanded Medicaid. As Feinglass notes, “For every 176 additional adults covered, the study concluded, one death per year can be prevented.”

Evidence is very clear that insurance coverage saves lives. Some people don’t get coverage until they turn 65 and qualify for Medicaid. Even at that age, gaining insurance matters.

When previously uninsured individuals finally became eligible for Medicare, they more regularly visit physicians and get more preventive and hospital care than individuals with the same personal and health characteristics who had enjoyed insurance coverage all along. Sharp declines in health also become less
common for the previously uninsured.

Maine Gov. LePage’s decision not to expand Medicaid has real consequences for Mainers.

More will die than they would have if MaineCare was expanded and more will be sicker than they would have been. Families will be hurt, as loved ones unnecessarily suffer and die, and the bills add up.

Denying MaineCare matters — a lot.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.