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January 24, 2005


Sophie Davis School, University of California Researchers
Say Investments in Expanded Health Coverage Likely to Pay Off

NEW YORK, January 24, 2005 – Researchers at the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education at The City College of New York and the University of California have determined that investing in universal health care could be as cost-effective for the government as other funded programs that promote and protect the health of Americans.

In a study published in the current issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the researchers demonstrate that the additional medical care that Americans with health insurance receive -- compared to those who lack insurance -- makes them healthier than the uninsured.  

The study was conducted by Dr. Peter Muennig and Dr. Marthe Gold, both of the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education at CCNY; and Dr. Peter Franks, a faculty member at UC-Davis.

According to Dr. Muennig, who has since joined Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, the team set out to discover if the additional expense in achieving universal health insurance coverage for Americans is worth the cost.

“The United States health care system is the most expensive system in the world, and concerns have been raised about its efficiency in making Americans healthier,” said Dr. Muennig. “This in turn raises questions about the benefits of expanding health insurance relative to other social investments.”

The investigators discovered that improvements in health are cost-effective, with costs that compare favorably with other investments that the government already pays for to improve and safeguard the health of Americans.

They estimated a cost of $35,000 per quality-adjusted life year (QALY) gained for expanding health insurance to all Americans. A QALY is a year of “Pap smears and high blood pressure treatment produce QALYs at similar prices,” said Dr. Muennig.

“The QALYs we receive from investments in airline safety and environmental protection cost as much as a million dollars/QALY. We need to start thinking of investments in health insurance as a very good buy,” he added.  

The researchers, in addition, noted that private health insurance has been found by the Congressional Budget Office to be the most costly option for insuring America’s uninsured.  Therefore, government efforts to cover the uninsured are likely to be more cost-effective than their study describes, they concluded.                                                 

If you would like more information about this topic, interviews can be scheduled with Dr. Peter Franks (916) 734-5494 or Dr. Marthe Gold (212) 650-7794.