Fact check: 45,000 die because they lack insurance? Not so much.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Every Congressman should be required to engage brain …before putting mouth into gear.  Were it, we might not have heard, “you lie”, or the recent outburst from Rep. Alan Grayson (D. Fl.).

But, at least, Rep. Wilson (R. S.C.) was telling the truth.  Rep. Grayson was, well, not exactly.  If you have been following the remarks of Grayson, you “learned” that 45,000 die each year because they don’t have insurance.

So, I thought it would make sense to look at the information available concerning whether people who don’t have insurance die more frequently than those who have insurance.  Mr. Grayson relies upon a report by Harvard researchers (who are coincidentally in favor of Obamacare) to arrive at his 45,000 figure.  To do this, the Harvard researchers went to government health surveys and compared death rates.  But, there are at least three flaws in the Harvard study.

First, the data needs to be “sifted” to, in the minds of the researchers, make sure that a “valid” comparison can be made.

And so the scientists have to get creative with the data, comparing insured people who smoke with uninsured people who smoke; insured people who drink with uninsured people who drink.
They try to even out all of the risk factors, so the only difference in life spans can be blamed on health insurance, or the lack of it.
The more researchers have to tinker with data, the more their research becomes an art form.

Second, the surveys used give us only a picture of a brief moment in time.  As follow ups to the surveys are rare, someone who was uninsured at the time of the survey may well obtain insurance later, but that same person who dies 10 years later with insurance will still be counted as the death of an “uninsured”.  Obviously, the converse is also true.

And third,

The Harvard researchers looked at about 9,000 health surveys, in which about only 350 of the respondents had died. That’s a small sample from which to extrapolate 45,000 dead people a year, so it comes with a whopping margin of error.

But, there is another study out there that Mr. Grayson ignored.

Another study by Dr. Richard Kronick, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and former senior adviser to President Clinton, crunched the numbers from 640,000 health surveys.
He came up with a very small increased risk of death for the uninsured, with a very small margin of error.

As they say, never let the facts stand in the way of a darn good opinion.

Here’s the Grayson moment one more time:


and here’s the 45,000 die claim


And for more great moments in Grayson oratory you can revisit our post here.

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The Sound Off Sister was an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and special trial attorney for the Department of Justice, Criminal Division; a partner in the Florida law firm of Shutts & Bowen, and an adjunct professor at the University of Miami, School of Law. The Sound Off Sister offers frequent commentary concerning legislation making its way through Congress, including the health reform legislation passed in early 2010.


  1. Dimsdale on October 7, 2009 at 6:19 am

    So CNN fact checks an SNL skit that is critical of Dear Leader, but they drop the ball (on purpose) when it involves erroneous criticism of Republicans?


    Yep, no bias here.

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