Medical scientists have analyzed some of the impacts of the expanded health insurance implemented under the Obama administration — the hotly debated Obamacare. They found that it significantly reduced the incidence of cardiac arrest by 17 percent.

Eric Stecker, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of cardiology at Oregon Health & Science University’s Knight Cardiovascular Institute in Portland, Oregon. Image credits: Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OHSU.

The US health system is unlike any other in the world — and not in a good way. According to both the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the US health care spends more money per capita than any other country, and yet is spectacularly ineffective at providing healthcare. They have fewer physicians and fewer hospital beds per capita than any other developed country, and that only begins to tell the story. The country is a leader in obesity, car accidents, infant mortality, heart and lung disease, sexually transmitted infections, adolescent pregnancies, injuries, and homicides, ranking 42nd out of 224 countries in terms of life expectancy. The state doesn’t provide insurance to people, leaving that to be either a part of an employment deal, or a private health insurance (which often costs absurdly high). According to Gallup, at least 11% of all Americans aren’t covered by any form of health insurance.

Obamacare was signed in 2010, with the purpose of driving better health outcomes and lowering associated costs, as well as lowering the uninsurance rate. Since then, that rate has gone significantly down, and results are starting to show. In a recent study, scientists found that one of the most crippling health issues, cardiac arrest, has gone significantly down. While the incidence remained more or less similar for adults over 65 years old, for adults between 45 and 64 years old, it went down by 17 percent.

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“Cardiac arrest is devastating and under-recognized cause of premature death for both men and women older than 45 years,” said study lead author Eric Stecker, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of cardiology at Oregon Health & Science University’s Knight Cardiovascular Institute in Portland, Oregon. “Health insurance allows people to engage in regular medical care, which is crucial for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that can cause cardiac arrest.”

This is not a small figure. Across the country, an estimated 350,000 cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest happen each year. If medical assistance isn’t provided immediately (often requiring CPR), the patient’s life is under grave threat.

The study focused on an area of Oregon, but Mary Fran Hazinsky and Carole R. Myers found similar results in other states. This seems to be a trend that carries out across the entire country, but researchers also highlight that correlation does not imply causation. In other words, the incidence of cardiac arrests is a complex process with many associated factors, and it can be difficult to say with certainty that Obamacare is preventing cardiac arrests — but at the very least, it seems to be doing so.

“The hypothesized relationship between healthcare expansion and decline in [out-of-hospital cardiac arrest] incidence is certainly a timely question that requires further study,” they wrote. “A follow-up study should be based on a framework that looks more broadly at a complement of social and other determinants of health, and accounts for the various dimensions of access, and evaluates access by looking at utilization.”

It’s also important to note that while ‘cardiac arrest’ and ‘heart attack’ are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not by any means the same thing. A heart attack occurs when oxygen-rich blood is not permitted to reach the heart, generally due to a blocked artery. The heart doesn’t usually stop during a heart attack. A cardiac arrest, on the other hand, is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat. In mere seconds, the person goes unconscious and the heart stops. Fatality can occur quickly, in minutes.

Because the problem is so often fatal, prevention is key — and this is where Obamacare seems to be improving things. Basically, 17 percent fewer cases can translate into 17 percent fewer lives lost.

“These findings underscore the important role of prevention in the battle against sudden cardiac arrest, which affects almost a thousand Americans every day,” said Sumeet Chugh, M.D., senior author and director of the Heart Rhythm Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, who carries a broader study on the effects of Obamacare on cardiac arrests.  “Less than 10 percent of these patients make it out of the hospital alive, so by the time we dial 9-1-1 it is much too late. For this reason, effective primary prevention is vital.”

Findings appeared in the Journal of the American Heart Association