Health insurance expansion could save 24,000 lives a year

The Massachusetts healthcare law that attained near-universal insurance coverage was associated with significant reductions in mortality, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers looked at death rates four years before and five years after the state's 2006 healthcare reform law and attributed 4.5 percent fewer deaths to improved healthcare access. Moreover, counties with lower household incomes and higher prereform uninsured rates saw larger drops in all-cause mortality.

Giving about 830 adults health insurance would prevent one death per year. And when accounting for actual coverage increases brought about by state reforms, the researchers found health insurance lowers the annual risk of death by about 30 percent, Harold Pollack, a former Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar in Health Policy Research at Yale University, wrote at

The study found fewer deaths from cancer, heart disease and infections, Reuters reported.

"The decline in the death rate of Massachusetts was focused in those areas where you would think reform would make the biggest difference," lead author Benjamin Sommers, M.D., of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, told Reuters.

However, saving lives won't come cheap. If a state spends $4,000 a year to help each additional person obtain coverage, it would cost about $3.3 million for every life saved, Pollack noted. That figure falls in line with the cost of other public health interventions, such as automobile child restraints, which cost several million dollars per life saved, he pointed out.

Key features of the Massachusetts reform law include expanded access to Medicaid and mandatory coverage, both of which remain central to the federal Affordable Care Act. But Sommers acknowledged his study findings may not apply nationwide, given that not all healthcare providers accept new ACA insurance, Reuters noted.

For more:
- read the study abstract
- here's the piece
- read the Reuters article