Health Insurance: A Matter of Life and Death

Ok, that sounds pretty dramatic. Insurance is boring, right? Sure, we’ve gotten some attention recently because of the health reform legislation, but under normal circumstances insurance agents have to beg people to talk to them. That’s because insurance isn’t fun. It may be necessary, but it isn’t fun.

Doctors – now they have an exciting job. They save people’s lives every day. In the insurance industry, though, we just help people pay those bills. Doctors provide healthcare, and insurance professionals help people finance that healthcare. We’re not the ones saving people’s lives. Or are we?

Insurance industry insiders have long argued that we don’t have a health care access problem in this country – after all, thanks to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act of 1985 (EMTALA), people can show up at the emergency room and receive stabilizing treatment regardless of their ability to pay. No, what we have, these experts argue, is a health care financing problem – insurance premiums are high because health care costs are high, but people aren’t going without care as a result.

While there’s certainly some truth to what industry experts have long argued – yes, people can receive emergency care when they need it and health insurance is expensive because health care is expensive – a recent study in Massachusetts seems to indicate that we do, in fact, have an access problem in this country and that agents who are able to help individuals and families get health insurance coverage could, in fact, be saving some lives. That makes our job sound a little more exciting, doesn’t it?

As most people know, the state of Massachusetts has had a near-universal health insurance program since 2006 which served as the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act. And, as reported in The Washington Post, “In each of the first four years of the state law, 320 fewer Massachusetts men and women died than would have been expected. That’s one life extended for every 830 newly insured residents.” The idea in Massachusetts, and one of the main ideas of the Affordable Care Act, “was that when people have health insurance, they would be more likely to get preventive care, go to the doctor when they become ill, and live longer,” and now there’s some evidence to support the link between health insurance and life expectancy.

Of course, as the article points out, merely having health insurance isn’t going to improve people’s health. They have to understand how to use it and then have to actually take advantage of some of the preventive care that’s included in their policy, so communication continues to be an important issue. But it is nice to know that, through our sometimes boring, mundane jobs, we could actually be making a difference. We could be saving lives.

So go home this weekend and reward yourself for a job well done. But before you do, learn how you can help even more people and, who knows, maybe even save a few more lives.

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