Sometimes you stumble upon the obvious

Reading the eurekalert! press releases today, I find something from an organization called the American Association for Cancer Research. The press release refers to a study of cancer mortality which was presented at something called the Third AACR Conference on The Science of Cancer Health Disparities. Try as I might, I couldn’t find the paper (even one lurking behind paywalls), and for all I know it might simply be the youtube video posted on the organization’s facebook page. (Pre-McLuhan limited thinker that I am, I usually avoid getting my information from youtube.)

In any event, the purpose of the study was evidently to show that a racial disparity existed in mortality rates after uterine cancer. And indeed, they found it: “African-Americans were twice as likely to die within four years compared to white patients after adjusting for age, facility and education level.” I always get nervous when I see a study of racial disparity in just about anything. It’s not simply that I suspect that there’s some “bell curve” axe-to-gring. (But there is that.) The real question is: what conclusion are you going to draw from it? In this case, should doctors deny cancer treatment to African-Americans because they are going to die quickly anyway?

But, fortunately, in their quest to isolate race as the single variable, the researchers stumbled upon this interesting contributing cause: availability of health insurance. “‘[W]hen insurance, treatment and clinical factors were accounted for, this likelihood decreased to 30 percent greater,’ said Dana Chase, M.D., a clinical fellow at the University of California, Irvine.”

So there appears to be some correlation between the availability of private insurance, medical treatment and the survival rates of African Americans who had uterine cancer. I wonder if this has any pubic policy implications. Perhaps we should find out if non-African American without insurance also had higher mortality rates. This might even lead to a bigger question: Do people in general with access to medical treatment have a better chance at surviving than those who don’t? Maybe United Health Care should sponsor such a survey. That way they can have it on hand during rate hearings when someone asks them why their CEO makes $24 million a year. “Here you go, Mr. Insurance Commissioner. People with health insurance live longer. That’s why.”

The next step for the American Association for Cancer Research is to find out how many African Americans could have gotten private health insurance once they were diagnosed with uterine cancer. I bet you people at United Health Care can give you that number without having to do a survey.

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