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Health Reform And Race: Too Early For Answers On Death Rates

A tip of the hat to loyal CommonHealth reader Dennis Byron, who — quite rightly — gets irritated when he sees potentially misleading interpretations of statistics. (Check out his new blog on Massachusetts health statistics here.)

On Dec. 15, I headlined a post, “Latest State Death Report Is Out; Is Health Reform Helping Only Whites Live Longer?” At issue were the numbers on “amenable mortality” — deaths “from certain causes that should not occur in the presence of timely and effective medical care.” Among the report’s highlights was this:

The amenable mortality rate declined 6% since health care reform was implemented. When the amenable mortality rate for 2008 is compared with that of 2006 (before health care reform), the state rate went down from 82.5 (deaths per 100,000 population) to 77.4. This decline was only for Whites. There has been no change in the amenable mortality rate for Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians since 2006.

You can see why I asked the question. But let us never assume that correlation equals causation. Dennis pointed out in a cogent comment that I was likely jumping to a false conclusion, that health care reform had already affected the stats on amenable mortality. He noted, in part:

it’s intuitively unlikely that a few hundred thousand people out of 6,500,000 having healthcare insurance in 2007 that they didn’t have in 2006 moved the needle much in either direction on 5000 total deaths out of over 6,000,000 people under 75, especially if as you have blogged about elsewhere, they can’t get to see a doctor.”

I ran Dennis’s comments by the state Department of Public Health, Continue reading