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Illness often undiscovered and undertreated among the uninsured: Harvard study
Date:10/19/2009

A new study shows uninsured American adults with chronic illnesses like diabetes or high cholesterol often go undiagnosed and undertreated, leading to an increased risk of costly, disabling and even lethal complications of their disease.

The study, published online today [Tuesday] in Health Affairs, analyzed data from a recent national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The researchers, based at Harvard Medical School and the affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, analyzed data on 15,976 U.S. non-elderly adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a CDC program, between 1999 and 2006.

Respondents answered detailed questions about their health and economic circumstances. Then doctors examined them and ordered laboratory tests.

The study found that about half of all uninsured people with diabetes (46 percent) or high cholesterol (52 percent) did not know they had these diseases. In contrast, about one-quarter of those with insurance were unaware of their illnesses (23 percent for diabetes, 29.9 percent for high cholesterol).

Undertreatment of disease followed similar patterns, with the uninsured being more likely to be undertreated than their insured counterparts: 58.3 percent vs. 51.4 percent had their high blood pressure poorly controlled, and 77.5 percent vs. 60.4 percent had their high cholesterol inadequately treated.

Surprisingly, being insured was not associated with a widely used measure of diabetes control (a hemoglobin A1c level below 7), a finding the authors attribute to the stringent definition of good diabetes control used in the NHANES survey. Even with excellent medical care, many diabetics fail to achieve such low hemoglobin A1c levels. Using less stringent hemoglobin A1c thresholds of 8 and 9, uninsured adults had significantly worse blood sugar control than their insured counterparts, the researchers found.

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Contact: Mark Almberg
mark@pnhp.org
312-782-6006
Physicians for a National Health Program
Source:Eurekalert

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