It may come as no surprise that there is a link between having health insurance and health outcomes. But new research performed by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute now strongly supports this correlation.
Quality Insurance = Better Patient Outcome
They studied men with testicular cancer, a form of cancer that is considered highly treatable. Through this study, they were able to demonstrate a connection between quality health insurance and patient outcome.
Those men who were either uninsured or had Medicaid, were more likely to have their cancers diagnosed in later stages. Also, sadly, they were more likely to die from the condition.
Those on Medicaid were less likely to receive the standard treatment of tumor-removal. And both the uninsured and Medicaid were less likely to have lymph nodes removed, which cures many patients. Given the highly curable nature of this disease, the results of this study are alarming.
According the Dr. Christopher Sweeney, the medical oncologist who authored the study, "What it means is probably the cancer had been percolating and brewing for longer by the time the patient was diagnosed… the only thing that stood out strongly as a predictor of those who did poorly was the insurance status.” The progression of the disease at the point it is discovered makes it harder to treat and those with insurance are more likely to receive an early diagnosis.
Early Diagnosis Means Better Treatment
The ability to diagnose early and treat various cancers has advanced dramatically over past decades. The increased focus of Insurers on regular screenings has provided much needed support to the medical community.
Improvements in awareness of risk factors and early warning signs, thanks to education from the medical community and the insurance companies, have improved patient chances of recovery after treatment.
Social support systems and work protections are likely also factors that need to be considered. If taking time off for surgery means losing your job and you have nothing to fall back on, how does this impact your decision-making processes?
A Great Start But More Research Needed
These findings are an excellent start. But they bring about more questions than answers, prompting the American Cancer Society to request and offer to fund more studies.
They hope to bring about a clearer understanding of what public health and policy professionals and medical professionals can do to identify and improve outcomes across the patient spectrum.
They intend to evaluate “Availability, Affordability, Adequacy and Administrative Simplicity” variances that may be leading to poorer outcomes for those with Medicaid or no insurance. They believe that such studies will lead to action that will help eliminate disparities in both treatment and outcome for similar curable conditions.
We can expect this research to broaden over time, looking at various cancers and other treatable diseases. This gives great insight into inequalities across the healthcare system that still need to be addressed. Studies like this one will help fuel demand for change.