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Does health insurance coverage really save lives?

In the midst of the complex, politically-charged health care debate unfolding in Washington, medical researchers say the science is clear: being uninsured increases one's risk of dying.

That's the headline out of a new big-picture analysis of existing research that explores the relationship between insurance coverage and mortality.

"Losing insurance is lethal and gaining insurance reduces the death rate. That is completely consistent numerically across the different studies," Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a professor at the CUNY School of Urban Public Health at Hunter College in New York and co-author of the literature review, told CBS News. "The politicians in Washington need to deal with that as a fact and not pretend there's disagreement on this issue. There's not disagreement on this issue if you examine the science."

The analysis, published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine , provides an update to a 2002 review of 130 studies on the subject, incorporating additional studies completed since that time. Both then and now, the research shows that people who are uninsured generally have "poorer health and shortened lives."

"The thing that's most surprising is how consistent the literature is. There's really not much disagreement in the scientific literature," Woolhandler said.

Co-author Dr. David Himmelstein said the reason is simple: "People get to see the doctor or nurse practitioner... and get their health problems taken care of." For example, "If you don't have health insurance you're unlikely to get treatment for your diabetes or your depression."

How big a difference does having health insurance coverage make?

The studies covered in Woolhandler and Himmelstein's paper "all suggest roughly the same thing -- that insurance has a modest, but real, effect on all-cause mortality. Something to the tune of a 20% relative reduction in death compared to being uninsured," F. Perry Wilson, M.D., wrote in an analysis for  MedPage Today .

In addition to lower overall death rates, the study also cites "other well-established benefits of health insurance: improved self-rated health, financial protection, and reduced likelihood of depression."

Both authors of the study are affiliated with Physicians for a National Health Program, an organization that advocates for a single-payer health care system covering all Americans.

About 28.4 million Americans are uninsured, according to the latest government figures . If the Senate Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act passes, 22 million more people will find themselves without insurance in the next decade, according to an analysis released Monday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The bill specifically affects funding for Medicaid , the federal-state health insurance program for low-income Americans.

The latest research directly contradicts a recent claim by Rep. Raúl Labrador, a Republican from Idaho, who said at a town hall last month: "Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care."

Video of Labrador's comments went viral, and the congressman later  tried to clarify on Facebook : "I was trying to explain that all hospitals are required by law to treat patients in need of emergency care regardless of

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