KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Fact Checks: Estimating The Number Of Uninsured

Several news organizations fact-checked statistics about the uninsured, specifically the often-cited 46 million figure.

NPR reports that 46 million represents "roughly 15 percent of the U.S. population," and the number comes from 2007 Census Bureau estimates. "Although the number of uninsured has grown slowly in the past several years, it's speeding up, mainly because employment has declined drastically since the Census report. And most of us get our insurance through our jobs."

"Contrary to popular belief, most of the uninsured are working families. They tend to be poorer and in worse health than those with insurance, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation." About 40 percent are between the ages of 19 and 29, and "while there is heated speculation that many of these young people don't buy insurance because they are healthy and don't want to, the evidence suggests that they are actually less likely to be able to afford insurance. ...  But not everyone agrees that 46 million is the right number. ... Part of the argument against using the 46 million number is that a few million of them are likely enrolled in Medicaid but tell the Census that they are uninsured because they don't have private insurance - the so-called Medicaid undercount. Also ... some 5 million or so - are undocumented [immigrants]" (Fulton, 8/21).

CNN reports that the Pacific Research Institute, a conservative think tank, claims the number of uninsured is only about 8 million. "That study concluded that a third of the uninsured - more than 14 million people - qualified for existing government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, but were not enrolled in them. About another 13 million had incomes of $50,000 or more, suggesting they could obtain insurance on their own. Nearly 6 million were what Blue Cross called 'short-term uninsured,' meaning people who are either between jobs or are just entering the work force. Many of the remainder were low-wage workers in firms with fewer than 10 workers, who could obtain coverage if the government offered tax credits for small businesses or grants to states, while others are illegal immigrants, it said." CNN concludes, however, that while the 46 million number is in dispute, "most researchers who study health care issues rely on the Census Bureau's figures" (8/20).

The Denver Post: "The 46 million figure comes from solid sources but includes illegal immigrants, who would not qualify for help under the health care reform plan" (8/21).

The St. Peterburg Times' Politifact looked at deaths and the uninsured: "On July 30, 2009, PolitiFact rated as True a statement by Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey that "as many as 22,000 Americans die each year because they don't have health insurance." We based that on the same study that Pascrell did. Subsequently, a reader pointed out a paper published last spring in the online edition of the journal HSR: Health Services Research that contradicts the study Pascrell relied on. So we are changing our rating to Half True and providing this new analysis" (Jacobson, 8/20). 

Meanwhile, Courier Journal reports that the idea that "government will decide what care I Get" is false. "This untrue claim has its roots in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the stimulus bill), which called for the creation of a Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research." But "the legislation specifically says that the council can't issue requirements or guidelines on treatment or insurance benefits" (8/20).

Philadelphia Inquirer: "A report released yesterday crunches some numbers to confirm what most of us already probably knew: The cost of our health insurance is going up much faster than our pay. According to Families USA, a Washington nonprofit group that advocates for affordable health care, between 2000 and 2009 the cost of a family premium provided by an employer increased 95.2 percent while median income went up just 17.5 percent. To make matters more galling, workers get fewer benefits plus higher deductibles and co-pays for the extra money" (Burling, 8/21).

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