A new study suggests that national health care reform under the Affordable Care Act could save lives.
In the first four years after Massachusetts instituted health reform in 2006, the death rate in the state fell by almost 3 percent compared with similar populations in states that didn't expand health coverage, according to a new study.
"Given that Massachusetts' health reform was in many ways the model for the Affordable Care Act, it is critical to understand the law's potential implications for population health," lead author Benjamin Sommers said in a press statement. "What we found in Massachusetts after reform was a significant reduction in deaths from the kinds of illnesses where we expect health care to have the biggest impact, including infections, cancer and cardiovascular disease."
Sommers is an assistant professor of health policy and economics at the Harvard School of Public Health, which conducted the study with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. The study was published in the May 5 issue of the "Annals of Internal Medicine."
The researchers looked at death rates for adults ages 20 to 64 before and after the state's health reform, and compared the changes in Massachusetts counties to demographically similar counties in other states that had not enacted health care reform during the same period. They found that mortality declined among causes of death that are most likely to be preventable or treatable with prompt health care. The study found that counties that experienced the greatest increases in access to care under reform gained the largest health benefits. The decline in mortality was almost twice as large for minorities as it was for whites.
The study also showed that after access to health insurance was expanded, fewer adults in Massachusetts were uninsured, the number of visits to doctors increased, cost-related barriers to care fell, and people reported improvements in their health.
"Our findings add to a growing body of evidence showing that health insurance makes a positive difference in people's lives," Sommers said. "How closely the impact of the Affordable Care Act will mirror the Massachusetts' experience is something we'll have to continue watching closely, but this is certainly encouraging news for the law's potential impact on public health."