Health insurance status has "significant relationships" with psychological distress, according to a study published in the journal Stress and Health. Specifically, the study found adults with private or no health insurance had lower levels of stress than people with public coverage.
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined data from the 2001-2010 National Health Interview Survey on more than 200,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 64. They found stress levels were high among the uninsured compared to privately-insured adults. Moreover, people who faced a change in their health insurance within the past year experienced higher levels of distress than those who didn't, regardless of coverage type. And gaining health insurance is linked with higher stress levels than losing it.
However, for adults who didn't experience health insurance disruption, average distress levels were higher among those with no coverage as opposed to private coverage, the study found.
The researchers also described the strength of the relationship between psychological distress and health insurance status as modest. "Changes in health insurance coverage may be related to some (but certainly not all) of the stressors a person experiences, and alone, it will not fully explain the psychological distress experienced by an individual," the study states.
Yet studying this variable may broaden understanding of the relationship between stress and health.
Payers may use these findings to empower customers through expanded educational outreach. In light of reports that more than 60 percent of the target uninsured population for the health insurance exchanges don't understand basic insurance concepts including premiums, deductibles and copayments, it's reasonable to assume that lack of understanding compounds stress. Insurers also may support efforts to help people compare plan features and costs, since more than 80 percent of exchange customers unknowingly choose a higher-cost plan than they need.
Finally, consider Aetna's example: After learning that staff with the highest stress levels spend $2,500 more a year for healthcare, the insurer recruited 200 employees to participate in a mindfulness meditation and yoga study, according to Techonomy. The 12-week study showed traditional Eastern medicine practices reduce stress and, as a result, medical costs.