NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 30, 2009

The commonly cited figure that 46 million Americans are without health care is inaccurate, says Philip Klein, a columnist with the American Spectator.

While the statistic is not pulled out of thin air -- it comes from the Census Bureau, who most recently pegged the number of uninsured at 45.7 million for 2007 -- the problem lies in the way it's commonly cited and understood, says Klein:

  • For starters, the statistic doesn't mean that there are 46 million uninsured Americans; Census data shows that 9.7 million of the uninsured are not citizens of the United States.
  • Liberals can argue that we still have a moral duty to cover non-citizens, but this doesn't change the fact that as a matter of accuracy, the Census data only tells us that 36 million Americans are uninsured.

But this doesn't fully convey the problematic nature of the statistic, says Klein.  In reality, a person who goes without coverage for a few months while between jobs is in a completely different boat from somebody who is permanently without insurance.

Another problem with citing the 46 million figure is that many of those who are identified as uninsured are actually eligible for existing government programs but simply never bothered to enroll, adds Klein:

  • In 2003, a BlueCross BlueShield study estimated that about 14 million of the uninsured were eligible for programs such as Medicaid and SCHIP.
  • In addition, some of the 46 million could theoretically afford health coverage, but chose not to.
  • Overall, the study determined that 8.2 million Americans are actually without coverage for the long haul, because they are too poor to purchase health care but earn too much to qualify for government assistance.

Even being without insurance still doesn't mean they won't have access to care, because federal law forbids hospitals from denying treatment to patients who show up at the emergency rooms, says Klein.

For text: Philip Klein, "The Matter With Myths," American Spectator, July/August 2009.

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