Much has been written lately about how individuals’ health could suffer if they lose insurance under the health proposals circulating in the U.S. House and Senate. But there is another consequence: creating millions more people without insurance could also adversely affect the health of people who remain insured.
“We know that communities with higher rates of uninsurance have worse access to care for those with Medicare or private insurance,” said John Ayanian, director of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan. And if either of the GOP proposals under consideration becomes law, he said, “it’s very likely we would go back to some of those same problems we had a decade ago with high rates of uninsurance.”
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that either the bill passed by the House or the one under consideration in the Senate could result in more than 20 million more Americans without insurance over the next decade.
Ayanian was part of an expert panel from the nonpartisan National Academy of Medicine that examined the implications of being uninsured in a series of studies from 2001 to 2009. An entire report looked solely at the spillover effect of large numbers of uninsured people on those around them. “The Committee believes it both mistaken and dangerous to assume that the persistence of a sizable uninsured population in the United States harms only those who are uninsured,” said the report.
That is mostly because it is difficult for health providers to maintain services in areas with large numbers of patients who cannot pay for care. “Those communities are less attractive for physicians and other health care providers to locate,” said Ayanian. “That affects access to care for everyone,” he said, particularly for critical but high-cost services like trauma care, burn care and neonatal intensive care.