Fans of Douglas Adams’ “Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” books will remember that the answer to “life, the universe, and everything” was “42.” For American liberals, the answer to “health, insurance, and everything” appears to be 47. Liberal pundits and politicians, right up to President Obama, have famously – and wrongly – claimed that there are 47 million uninsured Americans.
Now, an ObamaCare partisan has claimed that 47,000 Americans die annually because they lack health insurance. On Oct. 5, former Clinton White House staffer David Goodfriend appeared on CNBC’s “Power Lunch” to argue for taxing healthcare businesses to pay for health care reform. Goodfriend stated that, even though medical device manufacturers and others would pay up front, they’d see returns in the form of more customers when those now uninsured enter the system.
“Just think; ask yourself this question,” Goodfriend said. “Why would 47,000 people a year be dying from lack of health insurance? How many more procedures would they get – how many more devices would they buy, if they had the insurance?”
Goodfriend didn’t cite the source of that figure, but The American Spectator shed some light on the possible source. In the Sept. 2008 American Spectator, David Hogberg explained the origin of claims that 18,000 people die each year because they are uninsured and why some could improperly extrapolate even larger figures (up to 47,000 people).
“That statistic of deaths due to lack of health insurance has been frequently cited in health care debates since the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported it in 2002,” wrote Hogberg. He cited the “wide degree of uncertainty surrounding the statistic.” The IOM study had been based on an earlier Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study that found that “lacking health insurance increased the risk of mortality by 25 percent.”
Hogberg then detailed the dubious problem:
In short, the IOM used the statistic from the JAMA study to calculate how many people would have died if everyone in the U.S. was insured. It then subtracted that number from the number of people who did die to determine the number of people who died due to lack of insurance.
The problem lies in the statistic in the original JAMA study. Specifically, the data in that study could not rule out the possibility that lacking insurance has no effect on mortality. Nor could it rule out that the effect might be larger, up to 55%. Thus, it is possible that the number of deaths annually due to uninsurance could be as low as zero or as high as 47,000.
So Goodfriend could have said that nobody dies each year from being uninsured and been just as accurate as claiming the number at 47,000. But that wouldn’t help sell a big government health plan.