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Underinsured Heart Disease Patients Die Sooner, Study Finds

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Patients with heart disease who are underinsured die sooner than similar patients with private insurance, new research suggests.

The finding held regardless of the patients' race, the investigators from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health noted. They suggested that the study results could shed light on racial disparities in outcomes for patients with heart disease.

Although black people living in poor city neighborhoods are more likely to have heart disease and die early from their condition, this may have more to do with their insurance coverage than their race, study author Derek Ng and his colleagues reported.

In conducting the study, the researchers examined information on patients admitted to one of three hospitals in Maryland for heart attack, blocked arteries or stroke. Nearly 5,000 of the patients had a heart attack, more than 6,700 had blocked arteries and just under 1,300 had a stroke.

The study, published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, revealed that the patients who were underinsured died sooner than those with private insurance. For example, underinsured patients who had a heart attack had a 31 percent higher risk of premature death, and those with blocked arteries had a 50 percent higher risk of early death, compared with those who were privately insured.

The researchers noted that there was no difference in survival rates between white and black patients. The survival effect was also independent of the patients' neighborhood and economic status as well as the severity of their disease.

Ng's team concluded that for patients admitted to the hospital for serious cardiac events -- such as heart attack, stroke or blocked arteries -- there is an increased risk of premature death among those who are underinsured compared with those who have private insurance.

"Given the recent changes in health insurance and health care reform, these results underscore the need to closely investigate the factors relating to health insurance that may explain these disparities. Indeed, targeting these factors may relieve the burden of mortality disproportionally affecting those who are underinsured," the authors wrote.

While the study uncovered an association between insurance status and survival rates, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about health insurance coverage.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Journal of General Internal Medicine, news release, Aug. 6, 2012

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