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Sinking in a morass of misinformation

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Barn-burner of a speech, with some House of Lords-style harrumphing thrown in for good measure. In a perfectly-timed dovetail today, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the number of uninsured Americans increased in 2008 to 46.3 million, compared to 45.7 million in 2007. From the Wall Street Journal:

“The data underscore the need to revamp the U.S. health-care system, President Barack Obama said, adding that more recent surveys show that the situation has grown worse since the recession deepened last September.

“‘Over the last 12 months, it’s estimated that the ranks of the uninsured have swelled by nearly six million. That’s 17,000 men and women every single day,’ the president said in remarks at the White House.”

Can the president, of all people, bring a little intellectual honesty to the debate? We’ve run through this about a million times, but I guess it bears repeating yet again. The 45 million (now 46 million) figure is a cumulative number. If you lose your job and forgo health insurance for a week or a day during a given year, your still counted as uninsured, even if you’ve regained insurance when the figure is tallied at year’s end. Close to 17 million of the figure are illegal immigrants (of course they need quality health care, but that’s a separate issue). Another 10 million are people who can afford health insurance and choose not to purchase it. At any given moment about 13 million Americans are truly uninsured for reasons or circumstances not of their choice; this out of a population of 300 million. So 4 percent of the population is uninsured, and this requires a radical restructuring of a system for the other 96 percent. Somehow it doesn’t add up.

I take heart in the careful language the president used, because even he knows the 45 million figure won’t fly under closer scrutiny. Still, it gives the impression that 45 million people are uninsured at any given moment, and drags us further into the morass of misinformation.


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