Thursday, November 15, 2007

Facts about the number of ‘uninsured’

President Bush, Senators Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), presidential candidates former Sen. John Edwards and Gov. Mike Huckabee and The Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, People magazine and Time magazine, as well as CNN, CBS and ABC, are all wrong about the number of people without health insurance.

Each of the above incorrectly claimed the number of uninsured to be 40 to 50 million Americans. Although the actual total is open to debate, there are millions of people who should be excluded from that number, including: those who aren’t American citizens, people who can afford their own insurance, and people who already qualify for government coverage but haven’t signed up. Government statistics also show 45 percent of those without insurance will have insurance again within four months after job transitions.

After accounting for all those factors, one prominent study places the total for the long-term uninsured as low as 8.2 million – which is very different than the media, national health care advocates and politicians claim.

Just the number of the uninsured who aren’t citizens is nearly 10 million. “It’s really indefensible that we now have more than 45 million uninsured Americans, 9 million of whom are children, and the vast majority of whom are from working families,” said Senator Hillary Clinton in a May 31 speech. This was typical spin and easy to find. ABC medical expert Dr. Tim Johnson cited the incorrect data as he praised the "bold" and "politically brilliant" Hillary Clinton universal coverage plan on the April 26 “Good Morning America.”

“It’s bold because it does propose to cover all Americans, including the 47 million now who are uninsured, within five years,” said Johnson.

The Census Bureau report “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005,” puts the initial number of uninsured people living in the country at 46.577 million. But a closer look at that report shows the Census data include 9.487 million people who are “not a citizen.” Subtracting the 10 million non-Americans, the number of uninsured Americans falls to roughly 37 million. However, that isn’t the only problem with the numbers currently being used.

Cheryl Hill Lee, a co-author of the Census Bureau study being cited, told the Business & Media Institute that the data showed the exact opposite of universal health care advocates have said. The Census “underreported” the number of people covered by health insurance which means that more people have insurance than the report suggests. The Census also underreported the number of people covered by Medicare and Medicaid. Many of the same people pushing the incorrect numbers of uninsured Americans also claim that these people cannot “afford” insurance.

According to the same Census report, there are 8.3 million uninsured people who make between $50,000 and $74,999 per year and 8.74 million who make more than $75,000 a year. That’s roughly 17 million people who ought to be able to “afford” health insurance because they make substantially more than the median household income of $46,326.

Subtracting non-citizens and those who can afford their own insurance but choose not to purchase it, about 20 million people are left – less than 7 percent of the population.

Dr. David Gratzer wrote in his book “The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care.” 'Many Americans are uninsured by choice'. Gratzer cited a study of the “nonpoor uninsured” from the California Healthcare Foundation. “Why the lack of insurance among people who own homes and computers? One explanation is that 60 percent reported being in excellent health or very good health,” explained Gratzer.

“Proponents of universal health care often use the 46-million figure -- without context or qualification. It creates the false impression that a huge percentage of the population has fallen through the cracks,” Gratzer told BMI. “Again, that’s not to suggest that there is no problem, but it's very different than the universal-care crowd describes.”

Dr. Grace-Marie Turner, a BMI adviser and president of the Galen Institute, agreed that “the number [of uninsured] is inflated and affects the debate.” Turner also pointed out that “45 percent of the uninsured are going to have insurance within four months [according to the Congressional Budget Office],” because many are transitioning between jobs and most people get health insurance through their employers.

So what is the true extent of the uninsured “crisis?” The Kaiser Family Foundation, a liberal non-profit frequently quoted by the media, puts the number of uninsured Americans who do not qualify for current government programs and make less than $50,000 a year between 13.9 million and 8.2 million. That is a much smaller figure than the media report.

Kaiser’s 8.2 million figure for the chronically uninsured only includes those uninsured for two years or more. It is also worth noting, that, 45 percent of uninsured people will be uninsured for less than four months according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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