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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Health Insurance and Cancer Survival

Health Insurance and Cancer Survival

December 20, 2007

A new study shows that uninsured persons are more likely to die from cancer within the first five years after diagnosis than their privately insured counterparts. Click here for information on the study provided by the American Cancer Society which is doing first rate work making universal health insurance their top priority issue. The results of this study more than justify their prioritization of this issue -- and ACS has taken more than their share of knocks for doing this.

For all cancers combined, the ACS researchers found that uninsured patients were 1.6 times as likely to die within 5 years compared to individuals with private insurance. People with lower incomes were less likely to have insurance, the report found. And those without insurance were less likely to use certain health services. About 54% of uninsured patients aged 18 to 64 did not have a usual source of health care. About 26% delayed care due to cost, while nearly 23% did not get care because of cost. An estimated 23% did not get prescription drugs because of the expense.

Here's more:

Individuals with health insurance were about twice as likely as those without to have had a recent mammogram or colorectal cancer screening. Uninsured women were about half as likely as privately-insured women to have received a mammogram in the past 2 years, a figure that was fairly consistent across all women studied, regardless of race or ethnicity. Only about 19% of uninsured adults aged 50 to 64 went in for a colorectal cancer screening test, compared to about 48% of those with private insurance. People with insurance were also more likely to be diagnosed with early stage disease and less likely to be diagnosed with advanced stage disease than the uninsured.

The researchers saw a survival difference in breast and colorectal cancer, too. About 89% of privately insured white women with breast cancer survived at least 5 years, compared to 76% of white women with Medicaid or no insurance. Among African-American women, 81% of breast cancer patients with private insurance survived 5 years, compared to 65% of those on Medicaid and 63% of those without insurance. A similar pattern emerged in colorectal cancer. Among white patients with private insurance, 66% survived 5 years, compared to 50% of those with no insurance and 46% of those on Medicaid. Among African Americans, 60% with private insurance survived 5 years compared to 41% of the uninsured and Medicaid patients.

Some critics of the MA health reform law say getting people health insurance is only an "accounting change."

We disagree. Kudos to ACS -- a fantastic organization -- for this.