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Health Insurance and Life Expectancy

Did you know that Hispanic Americans live longer than non-Hispanic whites? If that doesn’t knock your socks off, consider this: American Hispanics are three times as likely to be uninsured as non-Hispanic whites.

If you’re still not blown away, maybe you haven’t been following the twists and turns of the health policy debate. As I wrote at my blog the other day, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) discovery that Hispanics (one-third of whom are uninsured) have a life expectancy that is 2 1/2 years longer than whites (90% of whom have health insurance) makes mincemeat out of the oft-repeated idea that the uninsured get less health care and die earlier than everyone else.

In support of the conventional wisdom, for example, the Physicians for a National Health Care Program (PNHCP) went so far as to claim that a whopping 45,000 people die every year because they are uninsured. That figure, repeated as though it were unquestioned fact by President Obama and most of the health care media, is almost as large as the number of American soldiers killed in the entire Vietnam War!

Families USA went so far as to make the astounding claim that 6 people die every day in Florida because they are uninsured. Eight die every day in California; and 25 die in New York. In Texas, the report implies that more people die every two months from lack of health insurance than the number killed at the battle of the Alamo (counting only losses on our side, that is). Nationwide, says the PNHCP, an uninsured person dies every 12 minutes.

With all this carnage, you might wonder whether there are any uninsured people left alive.

All of this nonsense is critiqued here. But don’t get me wrong. One of the joys of health economics is that you just don’t get this kind of entertainment in other economic fields. For sheer comedic amusement, health economics is sui generis.

The latest government report also completely blows out of the water a whole slew of international comparisons that cause a lot of commentators to froth at the mouth. Take the 1,000 or so U.S.-health-care-system-bashing studies, essays and opinion pieces (or is it 10,000? I can’t remember) that claim we’re getting short-changed because we spend more and die earlier. Turns out, these comparisons were mainly focused on insured people. Had they looked instead at the U.S. ethnic group most likely to be uninsured they would have had to eat their words. American Hispanics probably spend less on health care than people in other developed countries and they live longer!

As the table below shows, American Hispanics outlive Canadians and the British, to say nothing of Germans, the Irish, the Finns and the Belgians. Overall, Hispanics in the United States live a year and a half longer than the OECD average life expectancy. (All numbers are from 2006, to conform to the CDC study.)

Life-exp Sources: OECD Health Data 2008 and CDC.

It is not known why so many Hispanics are uninsured, but the phenomenon is not explained by lower incomes. Census Bureau statistics show that at every level of income, Hispanics are two to three times as likely to be uninsured as the population as a whole, and the higher the income level, the greater the discrepancy.

Now if we did research at the NCPA the way Families USA does research, we would be claiming that lack of insurance actually makes people live longer! I can see the press release now…..”90,000 People Alive Today because They Didn’t Insure, Says Study”….. An estimated million, billion, trillion extra life years, all because of….. 12 extra people walk the streets of Florida every day….. That’s XXX people who didn’t die every minute…..YYY every second…..ZZZ every nanosecond…..

John C. Goodman, PhD, is president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis.  He is also the Kellye Wright Fellow in health care. The mission of the Wright Fellowship is to promote a more patient-centered, consumer-driven health care system. Dr. Goodman’s Health Policy Blog is considered among the top conservative health care blogs on the internet where pro-free enterprise, private sector solutions to health care problems are discussed by top health policy experts from all sides of the political spectrum.

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TammyTammy CorbettBoris J DirnbachJoe Foxsteve Recent comment authors
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Tammy
Guest

Breaking down those Canadian statistics even further, the average life expectancy for women is 83 years and for men, 78 years.

Tammy Corbett
Guest

Being a Canadian, it’s interesting to see that Canadians have a life expectancy of 80.4 years. While Canada has a government health plan in place, many people have a supplemental health insurance plan to fill in the gaps where the government health plan falls short.

Boris J Dirnbach
Guest
Boris J Dirnbach

I love this analysis. My wife and I will drop Medicare B and our supplemental plan saving us $550/month. (Should I drop dental too at $40/month?) Then we’ll become Hispanic and increase our life expectancy by 3 years. Why didn’t I think of that? Thanks Doc John.

Peter
Guest
Peter

“With research funded by U.S. TAXPAYERS.”
Just a few of our contributions.
http://www.canadianmedicinenews.com/2007/11/canadas-greatest-medical-research.html

Frank
Guest
Frank

PARASITES
” .. Actually Frank, I went to Canada for cataract surgery at 1/3 the cost ..”
Yup. With research funded by U.S. TAXPAYERS.
What will Canada and the world do, now that OWE-BAMA has CRIPPLED USA research?
Die earlier.
Great job, MESS-iah. You Harvard Law Commie-dupe loser.

Joe Fox
Guest
Joe Fox

All you ever need to know is that every single empirical fact and statistical inference he discovers supports John Goodman’s policy positions. Get that? He will never make a conclusion based on research that contradicts his political commitments. That’s why people create such their very own think tanks with such august names as the National Center For Policy Analysis.

steve
Guest
steve

Based on this, I expect John to announce that he and his family have given up all health insurance.
Steve

Devon Herrick, National Center for Policy Analysis
Guest
Devon Herrick, National Center for Policy Analysis

I would argue the data actually shows multicollinearity, where several relevant variables are highly correlated with insurance status but largely unaffected by insurance status. This could include rates of smoking, obesity, low income, poor education, etc. These are all correlated with shorter longevity, poorer health and correlated with lack of insurance. Yet in the Families USA and PNHP 2-variable model, the result is misinterpreted as lack of insurance kills people. Arguing that Hispanic longevity is an example of migration of the fittest doesn’t explain why Spaniards also live longer than many other European countries (some of which probably have better… Read more »

Brian Klepper
Guest

John, This article reflects the worst form of sophistry, and it should be, but apparently isn’t, beneath you. It should also be beneath THCB. As TW points out, this kind of analysis employs highly selective use of data, and completely ignores other important data, such as other Hispanic-specific factors that might account for their success, despite access to good care. Putting aside the hyperbole that is inevitably associated with any controversial topic, one would hope that someone of your stature would take the high road and address these issues reasonably. There is certainly a wealth of credible data showing that… Read more »

twa
Guest
twa

Junk science used to attack supposed junk science. I especially like linking to your own post critiquing somthing as if it was a link to some other credible source of critical analysis. After threatening to do so, but failing so far, I will no longer waste my time reading anything this “expert” has to say.

Peter
Guest
Peter

Actually Frank, I went to Canada for cataract surgery at 1/3 the cost. I see just fine.

Frank
Guest
Frank

FIDEL
” .. Hey John, seems most citizens with government run/controlled/single-pay live longer than U.S. citizens. What are we to draw from that – it works at lower cost?”
Don’t like the USA? Try the “worker’s paradise” managed by OWEbama’s pal Fidel. Most people need to be told what to do — just join them.
Just don’t get too sick. Only Fidel gets the good MDs.

jonathan (jd)
Guest
jonathan (jd)

Wow, this is embarrassing analysis. TW hits some good points, but I’d just reinforce that not being insured could only be one factor in longevity. The claim that being uninsured leads to a shorter life span means that other things being equal, if you are uninsured on average you can expect a somewhat shortened life. The data never supported anything else, and anyone with a modicum of sophistication in interpreting statistical data understood that. Diet, behavior, stress, social connections, genes, environmental harms and other factors play a role. So, are “other things equal” when looking at hispanics and whites in… Read more »

Josue Parker
Guest
Josue Parker

Friends, hopefully this will crystallize as the disease has increased, I read an article indicating that it is necessary to temporarily checked for the disease and thus counteract it.
Josue Parker
Findrxonline

Peter
Guest
Peter

Hey John, seems most citizens with government run/controlled/single-pay live longer than U.S. citizens. What are we to draw from that – it works at lower cost?