Steve Milloy’s “junk science” detector started running high when he got hold of a new study in the American Journal of Public Health claiming nearly 45,000 Americans die from a lack of health insurance.
According to the study, titled “Health Insurance and Mortality in U.S. Adults,” working-age Americans without insurance have a 40 percent higher risk of death than their privately insured counterparts. It also includes a chart showing how many people have died state by state, supposedly because of lack of insurance. For example, researchers say 4,675 Texas have died because they didn’t have insurance during their study period.
Mr. Milloy, founder and publisher of Junkscience.com and co-founder and portfolio manger for the Free Enterprise Fund, said the study was created to boost President Obama’s health care agenda. Mr. Milloy reminded that Mr. Obama recently told Congress people would die if they didn’t have insurance.
“Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing,” Mr. Obama said in his Sept. 9 address. “Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.”
Mr. Milloy believes the study will give Mr. Obama more specific numbers to use in order to ramp up public support for his plan.
“They are trying to create these factoids that they can beat opponents over the head with,” Mr. Milloy said. “They interviewed 9,000 people between 1988 and 1994 and asked, ‘Do you have health insurance?’ and if you die at some point in the future, they assume your death was caused by the fact you didn’t have insurance during that time you were interviewed.”
“That kind of stuff is classic junk science,” Mr. Milloy added.
John C. Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, agreed that the study was flawed. “The subjects were interviewed only once and the study tries to link their insurance status at that time to mortality a decade later. Yet over the period, the authors have no idea whether subjects were insured or uninsured, what kind of medical care they received, or even cause of death,” he said in a statement.
NPCA noted that a “more careful study” completed by the Congressional Budget Office found that low-income people without insurance had a 3 percent higher chance of death, but found no difference among higher income earners.
One of the study’s co-authors, Dr. David Himmelstein, is a strong proponent of a single-payer system. In addition to working as associate professor of medicine at Harvard University, Dr. Himmelstein is also founder and spokesman for Physicians for a National Health Program.
He testified before Congress earlier this year in favor of a single-payer system, saying, “Our 16,000 physician members support nonprofit, single-payer national health insurance because of overwhelming evidence that lesser reforms will fail.” His health care advocacy work was not disclosed in a press release for this study.
Rather, remarks attributed to Dr. Himmelstein contained another shocking statistic. “The Institute of Medicine, using older studies, estimated that one American dies every 30 minutes from lack of health insurance,” Dr. Himmelstein said. “Even this grim figure is an underestimate — now one dies every 12 minutes.”