Health study accurate [on 45,000 deaths annually], had no assumptions

Letter to the Editor
Orlando Sentinel
November 28, 2009

Congressman Cliff Stearns in his My Word column Tuesday ("Use facts in health-care debate") repeats misinformation spread by a conservative think-tank about our study that found that nearly 45,000 Americans die annually because they lack health insurance.

The study was based on a survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (not by us, as Stearns claims) of more than 9,000 people. They were interviewed, examined by a doctor and given blood tests. They were then followed for up to 12 years to see who lived and who died.

After taking into account many factors, including age, race and baseline health status, we found that the uninsured had 40 percent higher odds of dying.

Contrary to Stearns' statements, our analytic approach requires no assumptions about health coverage in the intervening years, although we know that being uninsured one year predicts being uninsured the next.

The study's methods have previously been accepted by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. The article underwent extensive review by other scientists and was published in the world's leading public-health journal.

Like the other 17,000 doctors who are members of Physicians for a National Health Program, we believe that every sick person deserves our care.

We also believe the private health-insurance industry cannot control costs or provide Americans with the coverage they need; hence, we support a single-payer, Medicare-for-all approach to health reform.

Unfortunately, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson has not endorsed this approach.

He did, however, cite our findings accurately in his My Word column on Nov. 18.

Steffie Woolhandler, Professor of medicine, Harvard University Medical School
David U. Himmelstein, Associate professor of medicine, Harvard University Medical School