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Study Finds Uninsured are More Likely to Die After Major Surgery

Study Finds Uninsured are More Likely to Die After Major Surgery

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill Reporting When it comes to health care, adults are actually more likely to be uninsured than children. And new research shows uninsured people are at greater risk when they're in the hospital.

This is another red flag about health care in America: if you're uninsured or African American, you're at greater risk of dying after major surgery.

Tariq Mehmood drives a cab in San Francisco, a job without health insurance. "The health insurance is too expensive for me, but at the same time, I don't qualify to get the health insurance," Mehmood explained.

Mehmood worries about his heart. "In case of any bad thing happening, I have no backup," he said.

The cabbie is part of a growing trend: 46 million Americans are uninsured. And like Mehmood, the vast majority works.

Now there's an additional worry. New research shows patients without health insurance are more likely to die in the hospital after having major surgery. That was true even with the best of care in top notch medical centers with world class surgeons and staff. "We found that patients who did not have insurance had about a three-fold higher risk of death," explained Dr. Hari Nathan, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

Nathan just presented these findings at the national meeting of the American College of Surgeons.

Researchers analyzed nationwide data on patients who underwent a risky liver surgery. "If done by experienced surgeons and experienced hospitals, it can be done fairly safely," Nathan said.

But post-surgery, the uninsured were more likely to die. So were insured African Americans. "Black patients did have about, approximately, a two-fold higher risk of death than white patients," Nathan explained.

The study did not look at why, but researchers believe the odds are against them before walking into the hospital. "We know that patients are coming in with various levels of income, of health insurance coverage, various diseases, various lifestyle factors; all that can impact how you do after you have major surgery," Nathan said.

And it's not just surgery. Another new study found similar results with trauma patients.

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