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Cancer Without Coverage

The number of uninsured Americans rose by more than 20% to 47 million from 2000 to 2006. Children and employees at every income level lost coverage during this time. With cancer as the number one cause of death in the U.S. one wonders how the uninsured fight this merciless killer.

The answer? Not so well. A recent study – the first to chart a dozen major cancer types using nationwide data – shows that those with private insurance fare better in the war against cancer than those without. The uninsured are twice as likely (and those covered by Medicaid 80% more likely) to receive a diagnosis of cancer in its late stages when it’s difficult to combat the disease. Typically, the under-insured don’t get screened for cancer as often or as thoroughly so the diagnosis is delayed, as is follow-up treatment.

Bob Herbert, a columnist for the New York Times, tried to bring these statistics to life in a series he did in the Fall of 2007. He told the story of a carpenter whose crushing headaches were revealed to be brain cancer and of the cancer that tore apart a 37-year marriage.

Of course cancer isn’t the only problem for the uninsured. Harvard Medical School has determined that not having insurance is seriously bad for your health. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes also lead to worse outcomes among people without coverage. The study concluded, however, that having private insurance isn’t key; public programs like Medicare can also make all the difference. Those who were uninsured and became eligible for the government plan at 65 had immediately improved health.

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