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Profile: Steffie Woolhandler
Steffie Woolhandler was a participant or observer in the following events:
Researchers for Harvard Medical School and the Cambridge Health Alliance release a report that shows approximately 45,000 Americans a year—122 a day or one every 12 minutes—die as a result of a lack of health insurance and a subsequent inability to receive medical care. The study’s co-author, Harvard medicine professor Dr. David Himmelstein, tells a reporter, “We’re losing more Americans every day because of inaction… than drunk driving and homicide combined.” Lead author Dr. Andrew Wilper, a medical professor at the University of Washington, says: “The uninsured have a higher risk of death when compared to the privately insured, even after taking into account socioeconomics, health behaviors, and baseline health. We doctors have many new ways to prevent deaths from hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease—but only if patients can get into our offices and afford their medications.” The study also shows that Americans aged 64 and below have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who have coverage. The study is published in the online edition of the American Journal of Public Health, and released by Physicians for a National Health Program, which favors government-backed or “single-payer” health insurance. In 1993, a similar study showed those lacking insurance had a 25 percent higher risk of death. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine estimated that around 18,000 Americans a year died because they lacked coverage. Himmelstein says the sharp rise in risk is due to the swelling ranks of the uninsured. Around 46.3 million people in the United States lacked coverage in 2008, according to the US Census Bureau, an increase over the 45.7 million figure from 2007. Another factor is the dwindling resources where the uninsured can receive care. Public hospitals across the country are either denying uninsured people any care at all, or restricting the care they offer. Co-author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler says the findings show that without proper care, uninsured people are more likely to die from complications associated with preventable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think tank, calls the study flawed; a spokesman for the Center says: “I think you can’t trust the results. Having said that, we ought to do something for the uninsured.” Woolhandler says the study followed similar protocols to those used by earlier government and private studies. “For any doctor… it’s completely a no-brainer that people who can’t get health care are going to die more from the kinds of things that health care is supposed to prevent,” she says. “Historically, every other developed nation has achieved universal health care through some form of nonprofit national health insurance. Our failure to do so means that all Americans pay higher health care costs, and 45,000 pay with their lives.” [Reuters, 9/17/2009; Harvard Science, 9/17/2009; CBS News, 9/17/2009]
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