Lack of insurance factors into children’s deaths

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If you haven’t had your life-isn’t-fair moment today, here it is: a lack of health insurance might have led or contributed to the deaths of nearly 17,000 hospitalized U.S. children during the past 20 years, according to new research from scientists at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, MD.

The study, appearing tomorrow in the Journal of Public Health, is one of the largest ever to look at the impact of insurance on the number of preventable deaths and the potential for saved lives among children in America.

To compare the risk of death in hospitalized children with insurance to those without, the researchers looked at more than 23 million hospital records from 37 states between 1988 and 2005.

What they found was that (all things being equal) children without insurance were 60 percent more likely to die in the hospital than children with insurance. That number is worth repeating: “If you are a child without insurance, if you’re seriously ill and end up in the hospital, you are 60 percent more likely to die than the sick child in the next room who has insurance,” says lead author Fizan Abdullah, MD, PhD.

One more way to think about it, “…we estimate that 16,787 deaths might have been prevented over this time period assuming lack of insurance was the driving force,” write the researchers. While the study can’t establish causation, it does mirror similar findings in adults.

What’s more? An estimated 9.4 million children in the U.S. (roughly 12%) lack health insurance, say the authors.