Friday, February 19, 2010

Health care reform shorts:
Wow! Health access keeps people alive!


There's a policy wonk argument in the blogosphere about whether lack of access to health insurance kills people. The Atlantic's resident free marketeer econo-blogger Megan McArdle doubts it (and yes, she is somewhat more nuanced than my description there.) All the pro-health care reform liberal guys, notably Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn, insist that, of course, having health insurance saves lives.

As a mere person who has lived a pretty long life among a variety of people, I find this whole discussion insane. I have no question that lack of insurance means the inability of people to pay for medical care which means they don't get it. And being under-insured -- socked with high deductibles or limited to catastrophic care -- is probably even more dangerous to health than being completely indigent. I definitely know people on Medicaid (because of poverty combined with disability) who have more access to doctors than ordinary insured working people who live paycheck to paycheck and can't afford to see doctors at all.

Econo-researchers need to get out more. Or talk to the janitor who cleans up after them.

But that complaint is not, mainly, what I want to highlight here. At The Treatment blog, Harold Pollack has weighed in on the controversy, bringing forward some data that deserves more attention.

Apparently it is long established that after people become Medicare eligible at age 65, that is, when they can join the closest thing this country has to a public universal health care system, their health measures improve a lot. People start getting and taking their blood pressure medicines. Those with diabetes practice blood glucose control. He comments

...this is a substantial achievement. It’s too bad that Americans must reach age 65 to receive this benefit. It’s doubly too bad that our over-65 population shows such tenuous commitment to providing other Americans with the same financial and health security.

I agree, even as I eagerly look forward to the relative health security of Medicare in a few years.

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