Well, duh: Insured cancer patients do better

Maybe it’s unfair to proclaim this a “well, duh!” study, but its conclusions do seem rather obvious. On the other hand, it’s information that we need in a cold, hard scientific form, and I’m glad that the investigators did it:

(AP) — Uninsured cancer patients are nearly twice as likely to die within five years as those with private coverage, according to the first national study of its kind and one that sheds light on troubling health care obstacles.

People without health insurance are less likely to get recommended cancer screening tests, the study also found, confirming earlier research. And when these patients finally do get diagnosed, their cancer is likely to have spread.

The research by scientists with the American Cancer Society offers important context for the national discussion about health care reform, experts say – even though the uninsured are believed to account for just a fraction of U.S. cancer deaths. An Associated Press analysis suggests it is around 4 percent.

4% may seem like a small number, but it’s not so small when you consider how many people die of cancer every year. Moreover, the reason why it’s probably not larger is because cancer is a primarily a disease of the elderly, who for the most part are covered by Medicare. Here’s more:

In the new study, researchers analyzed information from 1,500 U.S. hospitals that provide cancer care. They focused on nearly 600,000 adults under age 65 who first appeared in the database in 1999 and 2000 and who had either no insurance, private insurance or Medicaid.

Researchers then checked records for those patients for the five years following. They found those who were uninsured were 1.6 times more likely to die in five years than those with private insurance.

More specifically, 35 percent of uninsured patients had died at the end of five years, compared with 23 percent of privately insured patients.

Earlier studies have also shown differences in cancer survival rates of the uninsured and insured, but they were limited to specific cancers and certain geographic areas.

I haven’t had a chance to look up the original paper yet to delve into the details of the methodology and findings. Perhaps when I do, I’ll write more.