Health Care, Public Health

Health insurance and mortality in U.S. adults

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Last updated: October 15, 2009

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A 2009 study by the Harvard Medical School and the Cambridge Health Alliance, “Health Insurance and Mortality in U.S. Adults,” looks at the relationship between having health insurance and death rates. The study used data from the CDC’s third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.  The survey was conducted between 1988 and 1994 and involved more than 33,000 people.

The Harvard/Cambridge study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, took the NHANES data and excluded those older than 64, nonelderly Medicare recipients, and persons covered by Medicaid or military insurance. Adjustments were made for factors such as exercise, weight, smoking, and alcohol consumption. The study determines that:

  • 45,000 deaths annually in the United States are associated with a lack of health insurance.
  • Those without insurance have a 40% higher risk of death.

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Writer: | October 15, 2009

Citation: Wilper, Andrew P.; et al. "Health Insurance and Mortality in US Adults", American Journal of Public Health December, 2009, Vol. 99, No. 12, 2289-2295.

Analysis assignments

Read the Harvard Medical School and the Cambridge Health Alliance study titled "Health Insurance and Mortality in U.S. Adults."

  1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
  2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
  3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

Read the press release that announced the study, "New Study Finds 45,000 Deaths Annually Linked to Lack of Health Coverage."

  1. If you had written an article based only on the press release, what would have been its main shortcoming(s)?

Read the study-related New York Times article titled "Harvard Medical Study Links Lack of Insurance to 45,000 U.S. Deaths a Year."

  1. Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
  2. Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. (For example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties [e.g., political groups, business leaders, or community members] and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?)

Newswriting assignments

  1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
  2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. (Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?)
  3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
  4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.

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