Health insurance uncertainty could lead to poorer health, more deaths

Efforts by both President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have created uncertainty in health insurance markets—and ongoing problems for people who want health coverage.

Amidst the President’s threats to repeal or rein in the ACA, insurers offering health plans through the ACA’s marketplaces have dropped out of markets around the country or have eliminated certain hospitals or doctors from their networks, forcing people to shop around every year for new insurance or new doctors, according to a December 4, 2017 New York Times article.

This insurance “churn” can lead to poorer health, and it’s especially frequent among lower-income families and those with irregular work, said health economist Benjamin Sommers of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“Coming up with the right balance and right approach to a patient’s condition takes time,” said Sommers, associate professor of health policy and economics. “If you wind up with a new set of doctors and new coverage every year, it’s going to make it that much harder.”

Research by Sommers, his Harvard Chan colleague Arnold Epstein, professor and chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management, and former colleague Kate Baicker (now dean of the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy) was also cited in a December 3 Washington Post opinion piece by Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard University and economic adviser to President Barack Obama from 2009-10.

Their studies estimated that, in individual states, having insurance would reduce annual deaths by the hundreds. Those findings led Summers to conclude that the Senate tax plan, which would eliminate the “individual mandate” that requires most Americans to have a basic level of health insurance, could result in 10,000 extra deaths per year.

Read the New York Times article: When Every Year Means an ‘Agonizing’ Search for New Insurance

Read the Washington Post article: Lawrence Summers: Yes, the Senate GOP tax plan would cause ‘thousands’ to die