NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 3, 2009

A recent Harvard University study by Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein claimed that nearly 45,000 people die every year because they lack health insurance.  This is a ridiculous claim that cannot possibly be justified by generally accepted standards of statistical inference, says John C. Goodman, President, CEO and the Kellye Wright fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).

According to Goodman:

  • The study subjects were interviewed only once, and the study tries to link their insurance status at that time to mortality 10 years later.
  • Yet over the decade, the authors have no idea whether subjects were insured or uninsured, what kind of medical care they received, or even their cause of death.

The study fails to recognize that being uninsured is like being unemployed, says Goodman.  It happens to lots of people for brief periods.  Most people who are uninsured can get insurance within 12 months.  Being uninsured 10 years ago is no more likely to cause you to die today than being unemployed 10 years ago.

A more careful study, using a similar approach by former Congressional Budget Office Director (CBO) June O'Neill, found that for low-income people, uninsurance increased the probability of dying by only 3 percent, and for higher-income people, uninsurance had no impact on mortality, notes Goodman.

Source: John C. Goodman, "Letter to the Editor: Study about uninsured makes ridiculous claim," Orlando Sentinel, December 2, 2009.

For text:,0,1737145.story

For Harvard University study: 


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