Today in "obvious things now backed up by formal research" we have a new study suggesting that the mortality rate in Massachusetts dropped after the state established mandatory health care coverage in 2006.

Researchers examined the mortality rate for four million Massachusetts residents (ages 20 to 65 years) between 2001 and 2010. They found that the overall mortality rate (deaths per 100,000 individuals) fell approximately 3% in the four years after the law was introduced and that death from causes amenable to health care fell by more than 5% over the same time period. Interestingly, and not at all surprisingly, the decline was greatest in counties with a high proportion of poor and uninsured residents. Further analysis showed an increase in insurance coverage, access to care, and self-reported health of participants.

Authors compared mortality rates of Massachusetts counties to those of 513 counties in 46 other states with similar demographics and rates of poverty. Rates in these states remained constant over the same time period. The study did not take into account public health initiatives and other factors that may have contributed to this decline in mortality rates. Massachusetts is hardly a microcosm of the country as a whole, but this is the best data we have on the affects of universal health care on the lives of Americans.

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Is this proof that insurance prolongs or improves life? No. Does it strongly suggest that universal health care may increase the overall life expectancy of Americans? Definitely.

There are some who would measure life in quantity rather than quality. Others recognize that overall improved health can be as important as extending someone's life. Ideally, insured individuals will be more likely to seek regular care, rather than putting it off due to fear of astronomical medical bills. Access to primary care, if used, can reduce rates and severity of countless medical conditions.

It is not yet clear what the effect mandated health insurance will have on overall health of the insured individuals. Studies 20 years from now will show us how it has influenced health outcomes. That said, this study provides scientific evidence that the Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction.