PARKERSBURG - More than 200 West Virginians without health coverage died in 2010 because they didn't seek treatment, according to a study by a national advocacy group.
Nationally, more than 26,100 people between 25- and 64-years-old without coverage prematurely died, Families USA said in the study "Dying for Coverage: the Deadly Consequences of Being Uninsured. The number was up from the 20,350 in 2005, the report said.
In West Virginia, 223 residents died, which doesn't surprise Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, a nonprofit organization that believes health care should be a right rather than a privilege of employment.
"It's actually gotten worse," Bryant said.
Bryant recounted the experiences of a neighbor, a journalist who started a consulting firm, of which he was the sole proprietor and therefore ineligible for tax credits for small businesses for insurance. His friend was injured and developed pneumonia from the untreated broken ribs, eventually spending his last days in intensive care.
"It's a tragic story of what happens to the uninsured," Bryant said.
The study found the five states with the most premature deaths of residents without insurance in 2010 were California with 3,164, Texas with 2,955, Florida with 2,272, New York with 1,247 and Georgia with 1,161.
It's an issue of money affecting the poor and working poor, said Pat White, executive director of West Virginia Health Right, the state's largest free clinic based in Kanawha County. They can't afford the insurance and they can't afford the medical bills, she said.
"So they go without it," White said.
About 50 million people in the country do not have health coverage, the report said. Its release comes as U.S. Supreme Court is ready to issue its ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act that was adopted in 2010.
Provisions in the law beginning in 2014, such as insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage or charge higher premiums to because of pre-existing conditions, will help reverse the growth in the number of people without insurance, the report said.
"If the law is struck down, the effects would be catastrophic," the study said. "Without the law, the number of uninsured will continue to rise, and more Americans will face the adverse health and financial consequences associated with going uninsured. Millions will delay or forgo necessary care. Millions more will face unmanageable medical bills. And, worse still, many will die prematurely."
It's unlikely the Supreme Court will throw out the entire health care act, White said. Much of it, such as the Medicaid provisions, have been enacted for years by Congress, she said. However, the individual mandate, where a person will be required to buy insurance, is the most likely issue to be overturned, White said.