Health Team

Study: People without health insurance are less likely to seek emergency treatment

Posted April 13, 2010 5:40 p.m. EDT
Updated April 13, 2010 6:27 p.m. EDT

Last December, Larry Scott had chest pains leading to a heart attack but was afraid to go to the hospital.

“I should have thought more of my family than worrying about (how) I didn't have medical insurance or (how) the bills are all going to be piling up on me,” he said.

A new study, appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 20 percent of Americans were uninsured when they had a heart attack.

Even though another 19 percent were insured, they still had concerns about medical costs.

Researchers studied more than 3,700 heart attack patients at 24 hospitals across the country over three years.

“Forty-nine percent of uninsured patients were more likely to wait more than six hours before coming into the hospital, and 45 percent of patients with health care insurance but with financial concerns in accessing medical care waited more than six hours before coming into the hospital,” said Dr. Paul Chan, a cardiologist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute who conducted the study.

Researchers said this was the first study that links health insurance status and people who delay treatment for heart attacks.

“Patients who had delays, especially delays exceeding six hours, were more likely to not receive potentially life-saving therapies such angioplasty and stents and clot-busting drugs,” Chan said.

Scott eventually received care, but his heart was damaged.

“If I had the medical insurance, this wouldn't have happened,” Scott said.