David Hogberg looks at this question in the American Spectator, and finds that the answer isn’t as easily discerned as some would have us believe.
Health outcomes are affected by many factors, including income, education level, smoking, and diet. Those factors also affect insurance status, making it difficult to discern the exact effect lack of insurance has on mortality.
Yet supporters of “universal” health care routinely affect to know the precise number who die every year because they are uninsured. Hogberg cites a USA Today ad:
The ad, purchased by the liberal Colorado Health Foundation, claimed that “Every year, 18,000 Americans die because they don’t have health insurance.”
This stat is based on a controversial study published in 2002 by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). But not everyone buys it:
Helen Levy, research assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, disagrees. “The basis for the (IOM) number is ridiculous. Lots of other things affect those deaths.”
One reason for doubt involves a problem with an underlying JAMA study used by IOM to arrive at its mortality estimate.
Specifically, the data in that [JAMA] study could not rule out the possibility that lacking insurance has no effect on mortality. Nor could it rule out that the effect might be larger …
In other words, the methodogy used to arrive at the IOM mortality figure was simply too uncertain to justify the assurance with which it is often quoted.
But don’t look for the evangelists of universal health care soften the certitude with which they assure us that thousands of people die every year because they lack insurance.