Toll of Health Insurance Gap Detailed Inadequate Care Costs Billions, Study Finds

Allowing millions of Americans to live without health insurance costs the nation between $65 billion and $130 billion every year, according to a report released yesterday.

That is because many of the uninsured receive inadequate medical care, which translates into a poorer quality of life and a shorter lifespan, concluded an expert panel assembled by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine. The 22-member panel was asked to calculate the “hidden” costs of leaving an estimated 41 million Americans uninsured.

For the report, entitled “Hidden Costs, Value Lost,” the fifth in a series of six by the institute on the impact of the medical insurance gap, the committee used the same approach that federal agencies use to determine whether the benefits of taking steps to reduce a risk or harm justify the costs to society of implementing those measures.

Each uninsured person loses the equivalent of between $1,645 and $3,280 annually in lost wages and benefits and in the value of what would be a better quality of life and a longer lifespan if the person were insured, the panel concluded.

Previous estimates of the economic impact focused mostly on the costs of free or discounted health care that society provides to people without health insurance.

The new estimate does not include the cost of the medical care itself, which runs between $34 billion and $69 billion annually, or whatever it would cost to create a program to provide insurance coverage for all Americans.

“Providing health care coverage to those who lack it is likely to be a cost-effective strategy that pays not only in lives saved and better health, but also in economic dividends,” said Arthur Kellerman, a professor and chairman of emergency medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, who co-chaired the panel.

The institute’s last report on the uninsured, released in May 2022, estimated that the lack of health insurance led to delayed diagnoses, life-threatening complications and, ultimately, 18,000 premature deaths each year.

The next and final report will identify strategies for addressing the problem.