Obama Relies On Fraudulent Data To Frighten Americans Into Socialized Medicine

“The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds,” Obama said at the opening of his White House forum on health care reform.

ABC factchecked Obama’s claim.  And Obama comes out smelling like a rose – albeit one dipped in manure.

Medical Bankruptcies: A Data-Check

March 05, 2009 12:37 PM


Gary Langer

–>(3 p.m. update: See italicized items with responses from the lead author of the Harvard study, Dr. David Himmelstein.)President Obama’s kicking off his health care reform today in the worst possible way: with a mischaracterization of data.

“The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds,” Obama said at the opening of his White House forum on health care reform. The problem: That claim, based on a 2001 survey, is simply unsupportable.

The figure comes from a 2005 Harvard University study saying that 54 percent of bankruptcies in 2001 were caused by health expenses. We reviewed it internally and knocked it down at the time; an academic reviewer did the same in 2006. Recalculating Harvard’s own data, he came up with a far lower figure – 17 percent.

A more recent study by another group, approaching it another way, indicates that in 2007 about eight-tenths of one percent of Americans lived in families that filed for bankruptcy as a result of medical costs. That rings a little less loudly than “one every 30 seconds.”

The extrapolation of Harvard’s data to “a bankruptcy every 30 seconds,” which Obama also mentioned in his address to a joint session of Congress last month, comes, per the White House, from a 2005 Washington Post op-ed by Prof. Elizabeth Warren, a co-author of the Harvard paper. Fact-check.org has noted that even using Harvard’s numbers, it’s more like a bankruptcy every minute; indeed if you add up all bankrputcies in a year you barely get one every 30 seconds. (I’ve e-mailed Warren for comment.) But more to the point is that the Harvard data are clearly inflated, or at best, mischaracterized.

Himmelstein tells me that the reason for the difference is a change in federal law that sharply reduced the number of bankruptcies. In 2005, the year he and Warren wrote their op-ed, there were just over 2 million bankruptcies. Data out just today say that in 2008 there were 1.1 million (up sharply, by the way, over 2007). So this error in the White House claim stems simply from the fact that it’s using out-of-date information. The next question is whether the estimate of “medical bankruptcies” is reliable in the first place.

A good part of the problem is definitional. The Harvard report claims to measure the extent to which medical costs are “the cause” of bankruptcies. In reality its survey asked if these costs were “a reason” – potentially one of many – for such bankruptcies.

Beyond those who gave medical costs as “a reason,” the Harvard researchers chose to add in any bankruptcy filers who had at least $1,000 in unreimbursed medical expenses in the previous two years. Given deductibles and copays, that’s a heck of a lot of people.

Moreover, Harvard’s definition of “medical” expenses includes situations that aren’t necessarily medical in common parlance, e.g., a gambling problem, or the death of a family member. If your main wage-earning spouse gets hit by a bus and dies, and you have to file, that’s included as a “medical bankruptcy.”

When I asked the lead author, Dr. David Himmelstein, about his definitions of medical bankruptcy back in 2005, he said, “It’s a judgment call,” and added that any death, for example, “to our mind is a medical event.”

A last problem was sampling: The Harvard researchers surveyed bankruptcy filers in five federal court districts accounting for 14 percent of bankruptcies nationally; projecting this to the other 86 percent is sketchy. Said Himmelstein: “Obviously the extrapolation is rough.”

Of such rough extrapolations are presidential pronouncements made.

Himmelstein today told me that he’s comfortable saying medical costs, as his study defines them, are “a cause” but not “the cause” of bankruptcies. In his view, “It’s accurate to say medical problems cause half of bankruptcies. There may be other conditions as well but medical problems were causal. I wouldn’t be comfortable with it as the ‘only’ cause.”

Worth keeping in mind is the fact that no one (apparently) disagrees about the pain medical expenses can cause to uninsured Americans. Prof. David Dranove of Northwestern University, who wrote the 2006 paper picking apart the Harvard study, noted that he has a new paper in the works showing that uninsured people who have a severe illness lose a substantial portion of their retirement assets.

“There is general agreement: Being uninsured and getting sick in the United States is really a bad thing,” Dranove told me today. “But for academics the validity of the research matters.” In the Harvard paper, he says, “The methods were so poor they gave cover to those who want to dismiss the problems of the uninsured – they can say the only paper out there uses a suspect method.”

There’s been a fair amount of academic back-biting about this issue. On one hand Himmelstein, the lead Harvard researcher, is a co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, created to promote a government-run single-payer health system. On the other, Dranove took $5,000 from the nation’s health insurance industry for his report, which he says he now regrets for the criticism of his impartiality it’s engendered. Both papers were peer-reviewed.

“It stinks to be uninsured. I don’t want to be quoted saying anything else,” Dranove says. “But there are correct studies, and incorrect studies. For academics, the validity of the research methods matters.”

It should for the rest of us, too.

Himmelstein’s referred me to a 2006 paper in which he replied to Dranove, whom he accuses of  “several out and out errors.” Says Himmelstein: “They were paid by the insurance industry to make this critique… They were hired guns out to try and make a point, and used a variety of illegitimate techniques to make that point.”

Science marches on.

(…and a 4 p.m. update: Elizabeth Warren, Himmelstein’s co-author, is serving as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel on TARP. Per spokeswoman Shanan Guinn, she’s not currently giving interviews on her previous research.)

Bill Clinton famously answered a question by saying, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”  Only two months into his presidency, Barack Obama has done to the word “hope” what Bill Clinton did to the word “is.”  Unless “hope” “is” using the word “crisis” over and over again (25 times in a single speech!) to frighten Americans into supporting his so-called “stimulus” package as the only possible alternative to the Dark Ages (i.e. demagoguing his opponents with the fallacy of the false dilemma).  Or unless “hope” “is” using data which had long since been proven false to frighten Americans into socializing their health care.

“Hope” has fallen aside just as “ethics” have for Obama: he’s now appointed 5 cabinent officials who have had problems with their taxes – which doesn’t even include future felon Bill Richardson with his Blagojevich-like “pay for play” schemes.

We are being sold one lie after another – carefully packaged by a man who has to use a teleprompter just to say ‘hello.’ Just as Obama decieved the country into voting for a stimulus bill they didn’t even get to read by saying, “I’m trying to save the world while my opponents want to do nothing” – when they clearly had an alternative plan – Obama is now trying to sell health care by using fabricated facts.

When people are denied the truth, or when the truth is drowned out by lies, democracy dies.

President Bush’s position that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction was supported by every major intelligence service in the Western world, yet he was called a liar.  And here President Obama is repeating long-discredited falsehoods to push socialized medicine.  Believe me, socializing medicine will kill more Americans than Bush’s war in Iraq.

Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, noted that the Nazis were very interested in health care, too.  After citing a few of the health care programs the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party” (that’s what the acronym ‘NAZI’ stood for), Goldberg says on page 19:

Are you automatically a fascist if you care about health, nutrition, and the environment?  Of course not.  What is fascist is the notion that in an organic national community, the individual has no right NOT to be healthy; and the state therefore has the obligation to force us to be healthy for our own good.  To the extent that these modern health movements seek to harness the power of the state to their agenda, they flirt with classical fascism.  Even culturally, environmentalism gives license to the sort of moral bullying and intrusion that, were it couched in terms of traditional morality, liberals would immediately denounce as fascist.

First of all, if we talked about the “National Socialist American Workers’ Party,” which party would we be talking about?  Republican or Democrat?

The point is that Obama and the Democrats are now seeking to impose socialized medicine upon the country whether Americans want it or not.  You won’t have a right not to participate.

A similar phenomena is occurring in energy, where Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are attempting to be able to impose federal will upon the states to force them to accept their energy agenda.

Goldberg points out that the one thing that unites all the various fascist movements in history:

“is that they are all, in their own ways, totalitarian.  But what do we mean when we say something is “totalitarian”? The word itself has certainly taken on an understandably sinister connotation in the last half century.  Thanks to work by Hannah Arendt, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and others, it’s become a catchall for brutal, soul-killing, Orwellian regimes.  But that’s not how the word was originally used or intended.  Mussolini himself coined the term to describe a society where everybody belonged, where everyone was taken care of, where everything was inside the state and nothing was outside; where truly no child was left behind.

We are going back to totalitarianism, because we are going back to the view that everybody must belong to the big-government-directed society, where everyone will be taken care of, where everything is inside the state and nothing is outside of it.  It won’t be a brutal, Orwellian-style form of fascism – at least not at first (who’d vote for such a thing if it were honestly presented on its face?).  Rather, it will be a smiley-face, nurturing form of fascism in which the state takes over society in the name of the well being of its citizens.

Sadly, the firing squads invariably seem to come later, when government has amassed too much power to be opposed.

It was lies that deceived people into accepting totalitarianism and fascism the first time, and it will be lies that decieve us into buying it as well.

Let me end by citing how Alexis de Tocqueville more than 150 years ago predicted that the welfare state would mean the death of liberty in America:

“Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood; it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances; what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?”

8 Responses to “Obama Relies On Fraudulent Data To Frighten Americans Into Socialized Medicine”

  1. A 1-In-100 Blogger Says:

    Congress has lost their minds. Our government is at its peak in corruption and power for control. This is insane!

    What we have now, what America has become, is a nation with leaders who are among the most wealthy 1% in the country: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0630-05.htm

    These incredibly powerful and corrupt individuals then pass legislation after legislation to become even more wealthy – stealing your money. “To paraphrase Dean Wormer from ‘Animal House,’ being “Inept, corrupt and elitist is no way to go through life…” But it’s a great way to get a job from Barack Obama: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2177279/posts

    Then after securing their own life-long pension plans with our money, they work ‘very hard’ to spend-and-waste disgusting amounts of our money.

    On what, you ask?

    To decrease ‘ordinary’ citizens quality of health care (using FALSE evidence to create fear), by socializing it! If all-of-the-above isn’t disturbing enough, Rush Limbaugh explains more on it – Health Care Summit Show: http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_030609/content/01125118.guest.html

    I have two questions for you:

    1) Raise your hand if you want health care run the same way, with as much efficiency as the DMV?

    2) Raise your hand if you would rather big-government choose your doctor for you?

    What’s that? No hands?

    You don’t want to wait in line? But the non-taxpayer’s or panhandler’s off the street got there first, so they are higher priority and will receive low-quality (but “free”) health care before you do. Too bad. Rules are rules. We’ve changed – take a number. Next.

    However, one shouldn’t worry about the health care Congress members such as Pelosi will receive; Pelosi, she will simply fly in her personal jet (likely paid for by taxpayers) to receive state-of-the-art health care we currently have today. She deserves it. She worked hard spending OUR money.

    By the way – Michael Eden, Obama just called – it’s your turn to bend over for him. He said, “Bring your wallet.”

  2. Michael Eden Says:

    Yeah. It’s bad enough to get screwed. It’s worse yet to get screwed by Barack Obama and Barney Frank (and you KNOW Nancy Pelosi has a penis of some kind). But it is truly vile to have them make me pay for the “privilege.”

  3. A 1-In-100 Blogger Says:

    No need to add this reply – just saying thanks for adding the linked-sources reply I posted yesterday (or above if you do add this reply). I can never tell when the post makes it through to your ‘waiting for approval’ inbox…

    …in other news, it seems the dems are working overtime this weekend: http://radioequalizer.blogspot.com/2009/03/dems-push-fresh-round-of-anti-rush.html

  4. Michael Eden Says:

    I try to get to comments every day, but on weekends sometimes it gets a bit spotty.

    I believe in providing evidence for what I’m saying. It’s one thing to have an opinion; quite another to have something to back it up. We need to arm ourselves with the truth and then take to the streets with it.

    Rush is loving the liberal attacks, and they are driving his ratings up and up. The problem is when Republicans like Michael Steele – who isn’t stupid – ACT stupid by giving liberals ammunition. Liberals are bad people, and I expect them to act like slime. It’s when Republicans act stupid that I get the most annoyed anymore.

  5. taffy Says:

    The other day I caught the tail end of some news report about some statement the Obama administration made regarding the health care situation. When the Obama administration was told that the alleged “facts” they were quoting had been discredited and were patently false, the response from Obama’s gang of thieves was something on the order of “Well, even if it’s not true, our position should be true, and our position is how the situation should be interpreted.”

    Welcome to the world of make-believe.

  6. taffy Says:

    One other thought. They only way I’ve ever had any success actually solving problems was when I got to the absolute True root cause of the problem, and focused all my corrective activity on the root cause. I have no idea how anyone solves a problem by starting out with flawed or false data. One may do something, and that something may or may not be productive, but if what one does actually solves the original problem that outcome will be purely by accident, and that outcome is highly unlikely.

    Obama’s who-cares-about-the-facts approach gives credence to the perspective that his primary objective is pushing his liberal agenda, irrespective of the current problems.

  7. Michael Eden Says:

    Yeah, that was really something. It doesn’t matter that they are caught in a blatant lie and distortion of the facts; it’s basically true even though it’s false because, after all, it’s liberal, and liberals’ intentions are good and therefore so are their facts and their philosophy.

    They are pitching a mythical crisis so that they can justify creating an ACTUAL crisis. If they get their way, old people will perish for lack of medical care. Retroactive abortion for the elderly in the name of “the government’s right to choose” to let them die.

  8. Michael Eden Says:

    Of course, you are right. Obama’s problem is that his liberalism is the root cause of most of the problems.

    One example: tort reform. Loser pays. If this were done, medical premiums would drop dramatically practically overnight. Malpractice premiums are so high that entire fields of medicine (OBGYN, emergency room) are having problems finding doctors – and huge swaths of the country basically don’t even HAVE doctors. But liberals will NEVER allow tort reform – which would be the biggest solution to the cost of health care – because trial lawyers give to the Democrats.

    So let’s ignore the root causes and focus on advancing the radical liberal agenda.

    Meanwhile, health care stock plummets because people are afraid Obama will socialize medicine, putting even MORE pressure on the industry.

    Ayn Rand put it supremely well to describe the fascist tactics of liberals:
    “One of the methods used by statists to destroy capitalism consists in establishing controls that tie a given industry hand and foot, making it unable to solve its problems, then declaring that freedom has failed and stronger controls are necessary.”

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