How The IRS Proved That Health Insurance Saves Lives

NY Times: The I.R.S. Sent a Letter to 3.9 Million People, It Saved Some of Their Lives

Recently, economists have shown that an I.R.S. letter encouraging people to sign up for health insurance saved lives.  This letter was an inadvertent randomized trial as 600,000 people who were eligible for the letter did not receive it due to a budget shortfall.

An excerpt:

Three years ago, 3.9 million Americans received a plain-looking envelope from the Internal Revenue Service. Inside was a letter stating that they had recently paid a fine for not carrying health insurance and suggesting possible ways to enroll in coverage…

Obtaining insurance… reduced premature deaths by an amount that exceeded any of their expectations. Americans between 45 and 64 benefited the most: For every 1,648 who received a letter, one fewer death occurred than among those who hadn’t received a letter.

In all, the researchers estimated that the letters may have wound up saving 700 lives…

The results also provide belated vindication for the much-despised individual mandate that was part of Obamacare until December 2017, when Congress did away with the fine for people who don’t carry health insurance…

The uninsured rate for Americans is rising for the first time in a decade, as states tighten eligibility rules for Medicaid, and as the Trump administration cuts back on health care outreach…

Previous research has found a link between expanded health insurance access and fewer deaths. Multiple studies showed a decline in mortality rates after states expanded Medicaid, but none could tie the outcome directly to the policy change, since states typically cannot randomly pick which residents do and don’t receive Medicaid. That makes the Treasury experiment, an unintended result of a budget shortfall, distinctively useful.

My take: This analysis shows that prompting health care coverage by sending a single letter can save lives.  It is unfortunate that we are currently heading in the opposite direction.

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7 thoughts on “How The IRS Proved That Health Insurance Saves Lives

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