FROM THE ARCHIVE
Report stresses importance of health insurance
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WEDNESDAY, MAY 22, 2002

Tens of thousands of Native Americans who lack health insurance face additional risks from life-threatening diseases, according to a comprehensive federally-supported study released on Tuesday.

Americans who do not have coverage are more likely to suffer from poor health and die prematurely than their counterparts, the Institute of Medicine reported. Even going without insurance for as little as one year can have an impact on a person's life, medical experts said.

"Having health insurance results in better health outcomes," said Mary Sue Coleman, the co-chair of the National Academy of Sciences panel which reviewed more than 130 studies to come to its conclusions.

"Members of racial or ethnic minority groups or people with lower incomes would particularly benefit from increased rates of insurance coverage because they more often lack stable health insurance and have worse health to begin with," she added.

About 33 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives do not have insurance, according to federal statistics, a rate surpassed only slightly by Hispanics. This increases problems associated with conditions and illnesses that are rampant in Indian Country, such as diabetes, cancers and heart disease, the institute reported.

For instance, a key to prevention and treatment of diabetes is early detection. But adult Americans with the disease often don't have insurance and don't receive regular checkups which can prevent blindness, kidney failure and amputations.

"The longer diabetics go without health insurance, the greater the chance they will experience uncontrolled blood-sugar levels," the study stated, "which can put them at increased risk for other chronic diseases and disabilities."

Diabetes in some parts of Indian Country affects as many as half of the adult population, according to federal data. The condition is also showing up in younger Native Americans, recent studies show.

With regard to cancers, American Indians and Alaska Natives die from the disease at higher rates than all other racial and ethnic groups. This problem is compounded for the uninsured because of delayed diagnosed, which then leads to premature deaths, the institute reported.

Yesterday's study was based on 30 million Americans of working age who lack insurance. It follows a recent Institute of Medicine report which blamed the poor health of Native Americans with the failure of the federal government to live up to its trust responsibilities.

The Indian Health Service is charged by law and treaties with improving the health of more than 1 million Native Americans. Most receive care on reservations, although there are urban centers.

The IHS budget for fiscal year 2003 is an historic $3 billion, an increase of $1 billion from the year prior.

Get the Report:
America's Uninsured: A Closer Look | Full Report

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov

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