Sunday, March 06, 2005

BEE MISREPRESENTS FACTS ABOUT UNINSURED

An article in the March 4 edition of the Bee shows how the Bee slips in a misleading statistic about uninsured persons in America. Absent an explanation, the statistic implies a much starker problem than what actually exists.

In an article entitled "Promised discounts may not materialize," Bee Staff Writer Lisa Rapaport explains how some people are being swindled by companies selling "health discount cards." These cards supposedly entitle the holder to discount health care coverage, but many times the cards do not entitle the holder to any discount.

Although it ads nothing to the thrust of the story, Rapaport interjects the following misinformation:

There are more than 44 million uninsured people nationwide, including more than 6 million in California.

Rapaport does not cite any source for the "44 million" figure she asserts (which you think should be there), but it highly likely that it comes from often-cited Current Population Survey (as summarized here). Here is what the survey asked: "did you have health insurance at any time in the 12 months ending two months ago?"

The problem is that the "44 million" figure is incredibly misleading unless further explanation is given. Without an explanation, the statistic paints a fairly stark picture. But, that may be Rapaport and/or her editor's purpose. As explained here, the "44 million" uninsured "include diverse groups of individuals, each of which is uninsured for different reasons."

As a reader, wouldn't it be important to know whether or not the "44 million" statistic meant that "44 million" people were without health insurance for most of or the entire year the survey was conducted? (It includes people who didn't have insurance for even one day) Would you want to know if the "44 million" includes people who have voluntarily chosen not to have health insurance? (It does.) This begs the question why didn't Rapaport or the Bee clarify the statement. Did they even think to investigate the number?

The fact is that the "44 million" statistic includes people who lose their insurance for only a brief time, such as a recent college graduate or a person between jobs. Some studies suggest that about 25% of the number (about 10 million) refuse insurance from their employer. (Source) The Census Bureau apparently admits that the "44 million" number is too high. (Source)

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