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By Steven Milloy, Publisher JunkScience.com and author Green Hell
September 15, 2009

An Obama administration-funded study to published Sep. 17 in the American Journal of Public Health claims that the lack of health insurance causes as many as 45,000 deaths per year.

This is political science at its finest:

  1. The study, which involved 9,004 subjects, is based on a single interview done with each study participant between 1988 and 1994. The interviews elicited a variety of self-reported information related to health, including insurance status. The interviewees were followed until 2000, when mortality status was determined.
  2. The researchers report that the death rate was 40% higher among those who did not have health insurance at the time of the interview.
  3. Among the many problems with the study, here are four of the most glaring; all of which will likely be missed by the media:
    • The researchers assumed that study subjects lacking health insurance at the time of the interviews did not subsequently gain or regain insurance coverage. In fact, a study subject could have received health coverage the very next day after the interview and this would not have been considered by the researchers.
    • The researchers essentially assume that lack of health insurance at the time of interview is the causal factor in the deaths that occurred. No data was gathered to back up this assumption.
    • None of the data collected during the interviews, including insurance status, was validated by the researchers.
    • The study result is statistically weak. Combined with the peculiar date-of-death cutoff (the year 2000 as opposed to any other year), it raises questions as to whether the study result was produced by “data dredging” – essentially cherry-picking data that provides the desired result.
  4. The main study author, David Himmelstein, is a well-known single-payer health insurance advocate. He the founder of Physicians for a National Health Program. No disclosure of Himmelstein’s bias or association is made in the study or the media release. See Bill Moyers’ interview with Himmelstein at http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/05222009/profile2.html.
  5. The lead researcher, Andrew P. Wilper, was funded by the Department of Health and Human Services ─ i.e., the Obama administration -- to do the study.
  6. The study was submitted for publication on March 16, 2009 -- two months into the Obama administration.
  7. he study will be published in the American Journal of Public Health -- a politicized journal that often camouflages its biases under the cover of “public health.”
  8. The study comes with a “handy” state-by-state analysis of the death toll attributed to lack of health insurance.
  9. President Obama said in his recent address to a joint session of Congress on health care reform that,
  10. Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it the most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true. [Emphasis added]

The obvious purpose of this study is to provide Obamacare supporters with a scary statistic or factoid concerning the alleged impact of uninsurance. The statistic is unadulterated junk science.

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and manages the Free Enterprise Action Fund. He is a junk science expert, and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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