The American Cancer Society has weighed in on the great American health care debate with a new study that claims people without health insurance are twice as likely to pass away than insured cancer patients. In fact, Dr Brawly, the chief medical officer of the society, says that uninsured people have a 60 percent greater chance of losing their battle with cancer. This study appears to prove that access to health care is a significant factor in survival. However just what sort of health care is difficult for the uninsured to access?
The first problem is probably that the uninsured do not have access to screenings. We have been told for years that early detection is critical to survival for many types of cancer. So uninsured people probably get presented for treatment after the disease has progressed, and this makes a favorable outcome less likely. Secondly, uninsured people will probably not be able to take advantage of the best treatment centers, but may have to use facilities that are already overwhelmed.
And just looking at the totally uninsured does not tell the whole story. Many people, even with group health insurance, are underinsured. One example of this are health insurance plans that limit outpatient benefits. Very expensive treatments, like chemotherapy, are often done as outpatient procedures. Once a patient has used up a small benefit, they might as well be uninsured! Sometimes it is even worse than being uninsured, because the presence of a group health insurance plan, even though it has been maxed out, can interfere with qualifying for state high risk benefits in some states.
This link, between survival and access to health care, is very striking for cancers that can be prevented or treated if they are detected early. Breast cancer and colon cancer are examples of these diseases. Some uninsured people may even avoid tests because they do not want to label themselves as uninsurable in the future.
While the debate continues about health care reform, nobody is holding their breath for a quick answer. And while some people may criticize the uninsured because they fail to protect their health, nobody thinks that a death sentence is appropriate punishment either!