October 23, 2009
45,000 uninsured deaths?
As many Americans die needlessly under government-managed health care each year as folks who supposedly die from lack of health insurance.
Yet Democrats, and their media sock puppets, have shamelessly exploited highly questionable estimates of uninsured deaths as agitprop to shoehorn the entire population into just such a government-run health care system -- on steroids.
They cite an exaggerated claim that 45,000 Americans die each year because they don't have health insurance. That figure comes from a study funded by your federal tax dollars, even though it was recently distributed to the media by Physicians for a National Health Program, a fringe, pro single-payer group based in Chicago, the report's release scheduled to sway the healthcare debate.
At the time of their study, the researchers involved were with the Cambridge Health Alliance, which the Boston Herald reported earlier this year, was hemorrhaging money as "the state's second-largest safety net provider for the poor after Boston Medical Center. Even before the recession hit, the network was facing millions of dollars in state budget cuts, money that largely goes toward treating patients enrolled in the state Medicaid insurance program." As such, the system would be one of the principle beneficiaries of the universal-coverage program the report advocates.
The researchers produced a report which could, literally, save their jobs.
They reviewed earlier data of a study from 1988-1994, subsequently updated to 2000, and extrapolated:
"We calculated 27,424 deaths among Americans aged 25 to 64 years* in 2000 associated with lack of health insurance. Applying this hazard ratio to census data from 2005 and including all persons aged 18 to 64 years yields an estimated 35,327 deaths annually among the nonelderly associated with lack of health insurance. When we repeated this approach without age stratification, (thought by investigators at the Urban Institute to be an overly conservative approach) we calculated approximately 44,789 deaths among Americans aged 18 to 64 years in 2005 associated with lack of health insurance. "
*Almost all studies of this type filter out folks 65 and over, who are provided Medicare coverage, and the young, who often receive health insurance through their parents.
In other words, when their first results didn't prove scary enough, the researchers tried Plan B. And Plan C.
The study is rife with caveats and disclaimers. The authors admitted,
"Our study has several limitations... We were unable to measure the effect of gaining or losing coverage after the interview... Earlier population-based surveys that did validate insurance status found that between 7% and 11% of those initially recorded as being uninsured were misclassified. If present, such misclassification might dilute the true effect of uninsurance in our sample." (Emphasis added.)
They cited, "the increased likelihood of uninsurance among Mexican Americans who were nonetheless no more likely to die than non-Hispanic Whites." And they offered the following damning admission:
"Unmeasured characteristics (i.e., that individuals who place less value on health eschew both health insurance and healthy behaviors) might offer an alternative explanation for our findings."
Further the results did not differentiate between those who don't have health insurance because they can't afford it and those who can afford insurance but choose not to buy it, often because they are the young 'invincibles,' who aren't concerned about health care -- whether it's a government-run plan or private insurance -- or the wealthy, who, presumably, consider themselves self-insured.
The authors said their analysis is based on a previous survey that "oversampled several groups, including Black persons, (and) Mexican Americans," although they claim they were able to use statistical smoke and mirrors to correct for that.
Despite the admitted drawbacks of their work, the authors summarized, "Lack of health insurance is associated with as many as 44,789 deaths per year." (Emphasis added.)
In other words, it's a guesstimate. Might as well close your eyes and throw a dart at the wall.
The figure could be as high as 44,000, it could be 35,000, but their estimate that is most closely tied to the original data -- with the least extrapolation on their part -- is 27,000. And they admit that any or all of their guesses could be off as much as 11% because "those initially recorded as being uninsured" may be misclassified.
Let's be clear; any preventable death is a tragedy: the loss of someone's sister or brother, father or mother, spouse or lover.
Yet the study doesn't claim that the deaths it estimates among the uninsured are preventable, only that they are "associated with" lack of health care.
By contrast, a comprehensive study of over 35,000,000 -- yes, that's million -- acute care records over a recent three-year period concludes that preventable medical mistakes actually cause a similar number of deaths in the government-run Medicare program. The sixth annual HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospital Study examined records "among Medicare patients at virtually all of the nation's 5,000 non-federal hospitals" from 2005-2007 and determined that over 92,000 deaths were attributable to medical errors, about the same as the average estimate in the uninsured study.
Further, the report noted that mistakes which could harm a patient are only reported 73% of the time and concluded that their figures "likely represent a fraction of the number of avoidable patient safety deaths and associated costs."
Another recently released study by HealthGrades concludes that "224,537 Medicare lives could have potentially been saved during 2006 through 2008" if all hospitals across the country had performed at the quality of care levels of its top-ranked facilities.
Yet why aren't the Democrat demagogues braying about a "holocaust" in government-run Medicare, as they did about the inflated uninsured deaths figure? Are they going to admit that it is really their plan, not the Republicans', to let people "die quickly"?
And where is the media coverage? Why did they lap up the uninsured deaths Kool-Aid, while ignoring the other two studies?
The Democrats and their Brownshirts in the media have shamelessly, irresponsibly used the hyperbolic 45,000 uninsured deaths estimate like a truncheon, to cow their opponents, even as they ignore the potentially much more deadly consequences of Obamacare.
William Tate is an award-winning journalist and author