Death by repeal? If you cook the data, yes

Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Chris Woodward (

electronic health records EHRConcerns are being voiced that a repeal of ObamaCare would kill thousands of people annually, but at least one health policy expert thinks that's a "bunch of bunk."

In an article for The Washington Post, David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler say they've studied how death rates are affected by changes in healthcare coverage, and they're "convinced" that an ACA repeal would cause tens of thousands of deaths every year. The story, they say, is in the data.

"The biggest and most definitive study of what happens to death rates when Medicaid coverage is expanded, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that for every 455 people who gained coverage across several states, one life was saved per year," Himmelstein and Woolhandler write. "Applying that figure to even a conservative estimate of 20 million losing coverage in the event of an ACA repeal yields an estimate of 43,956 deaths annually."

OneNewsNow sought comment from Hadley Heath Manning, director of health policy at Independent Women's Forum.


"It makes me think of the Mark Twain quote about lies, darned lies and statistics, because there is a little bit of manipulation going on here," Manning offers. "In fact, when Senator Bernie Sanders [I-Vermont] made a similar claim, the Washington Post fact checker gave him Four Pinocchios. So I think this is a bunch of bunk."

The warning from Himmelstein and Woolhandler comes after claims and concerns that repealing ObamaCare will cut jobs and add to the deficit. Manning contends a lot of fear-mongering is going on.

"They cited some statistics about Medicaid coverage and how Medicaid coverage prevents death, but there's a couple problems with that," she explains. "One thing is that giving someone health insurance coverage through Medicaid and taking it back are two different things – and the effect isn't always one to one."

Manning adds that another important study that was also published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the Medicaid expansion in the state of Oregon. That study found that there was no measurable impact on the health of the people who enrolled in Medicaid versus people who are uninsured.

"So we have to keep in mind that you can make the numbers say whatever you want to, but Medicaid is not the best way to insure people," she continues. "Private insurance is much better. And if we want those low-income Americans to have better healthcare and better outcomes, we have to focus on reducing the root cost of healthcare and private health insurance instead of throwing them into Medicaid, which I think is a lazy way to try to solve their problems."


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