“As the health care debate has heated up, we’ve seen more and more media attention paid to political point scoring and special interest lies,” says the latest from Organizing for America, the Obama campaign’s afterlife as a “grassroots” organizing arm, in an email headlined “A Matter of Days.” Vilifying those who honestly disagree seems to be only policy the bright bulbs behind Obamacare (or is it Kennedycare today?) can come up with the pass the most radical “reform” in our nation’s history.
The more they label the opposition’s claims as “lies” or (another favorite) “myths,” the more these so-called myths end up sounding a lot like the truth. Today’s email from Organizing for America, in fact, retails a popular “fact” put forward by the president’s allies:
“Amid the noise, you don’t hear as much about the families that go bankrupt each day trying to keep up with spiraling health care costs — or about insurance company bureaucrats who every day ration care to maximize profit.” Here is the truth about healthcare bankruptcies: there is no evidence that a government healthcare system would reduce the number of medical bankruptcies.
That is the finding of Brett J. Skinner is director of bio-pharma, health, and insurance policy at the Fraser Institute and the main author of a book entitled Health Insurance and the Bankruptcy Rates in Canada and the United States. He has written an important piece on medical bankruptcy.
The debate about American healthcare is being influenced by recent controversial research claiming to show that nearly two-thirds of personal bankruptcies in the United States resulted from uninsured medical expenses or loss of income due to illness. An earlier 2005 edition of this research claimed that just over half of personal bankruptcies were due to these “medical causes.” The authors of these studies, David Himmelstein, Deborah Thorne, Elizabeth Warren, and Steffie Woolhandler, argue that the problem of “medical bankruptcies” would be solved by the adoption of a government-run health insurance system like Canada’s. The research has been politically persuasive.
But Skinner goes on to say:
Yet the evidence shows that in the only comparable years, personal bankruptcy rates were actually higher in Canada. Personal bankruptcy filings as a percentage of the population were 0.20 percent in the United States during 2006 and 0.27 percent in 2007. In Canada, the numbers are 0.30 percent in both 2006 and 2007. The data are from government sources and defined in similar ways for both countries and cover the time period after the legal reforms to U.S. bankruptcy laws in 2005 and before the onset of the 2008 economic recession.
The truth is that the majority of debt among bankrupt consumers in both Canada and the United States is comprised of non-medical expenditures and therefore has little to do with health insurance coverage.
On the rare occasion that medical debts do partially contribute to bankruptcy, they likely accumulate from patients’ demands for the kinds of expensive, cutting-edge or end-of-life treatments that would never be covered by government insurance anyway. It is a fact that many of these same types of expensive treatments are increasingly not insured by government healthcare in Canada.
And, hey, don’t you love that “amid the noise?”
Note to Obama administration: that “noise” is the noble sound of democracy in action.