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Harvard Study: Mass. Health Reform Law Lowered Death Rates

BOSTON (CBS) --- Harvard researchers estimate that Massachusetts health reform law has prevented some 320 deaths per year or, one life saved for each 830 people gaining coverage.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Diane Sterns reports




A new study that now appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine says in the first four years after Massachusetts instituted health care reform in 2006, the mortality rate decreased by 2.9-percent. That percentage is compared to similar populations in states that didn't expand health coverage.

The state's health care reform law has served as a model for the national Affordable Care Act.

Benjamin Sommers, assistant professor of health policy and economics at Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study says the results are promising.

"You have to be careful extrapolating, but there's some reason to think Massachusetts' health reform will resemble quite a bit what we'll see nationally," Sommers said.

The study looked at mortality rates for ages 20-64 before and after health reform went into effect in Massachusetts, compared to similar counties in other states that had not enacted health reform.

"The big picture is very similar but Massachusetts is not representative of what the country as a whole looks like; the population is different, there were higher rates of insurance before the law, we have fewer minorities, higher overall income and lower poverty rates and a healthy medical system with a lot of providers and physicians compared to the rest of the country," Sommers said.

Despite the differences, Sommers says having health reform helps people live longer.

"The reduction in mortality were primarily in areas that were lower-income and had more uninsured people before the law took effect," he said.

The results also showed that after the expansion there were fewer adults in Massachusetts without insurance, fewer cost-related barriers to care, more outpatient visits, and improvements in self-reported health.

Much like the Affordable Care Act, Massachusetts health reform expanded Medicaid and subsidized private health plans and created individualized mandates to hold residents accountable to get coverage.

Sommers, a part-time advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the study was written in Sommers' capacity as a Harvard employee and does not represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


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