If you watched the fourth Democrat debate and — unlike Joe Biden — managed to stay awake, you heard a whole lot of spin. Here’s the reality behind three common liberal claims.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders contend that the frequency of middle-class Americans being driven into bankruptcy by health care costs necessitates “Medicare for All.”
During the debate, Sanders asserted, “500,000 people (go) bankrupt for one reason, they came down with cancer.” Warren said, “two out of every three families that ended up in bankruptcy after a serious medical problem had health insurance. The problem we’ve got right now is the overall cost of health care.”
Last year, there were 757,000 non-business bankruptcies. The idea that two-thirds are the result of medical bills comes from research Warren did when she was an academic. Based on a sampling of 1,000 bankruptcy cases, she and her co-authors concluded that 62 percent stemmed from medical debt. But just 29 percent of the people in her survey thought medical debt caused their bankruptcies. To produce the higher number, she added in those who had missed work because of illness.
Other research suggests that even 29 percent is overstated. In 2018, a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine found that medical bills caused just 4 percent of bankruptcies. A 2018 study in The American Economic Review found that hospital admissions increased bankruptcy rates by 0.4 percent for the insured and 1.4 percent for the uninsured.
The key takeaway in the study was that the big economic risk of getting sick is a loss of earning power. Think of a mechanic who has to cut back his hours after hurting his back. Or the hard-charging executive who has a heart attack and has to take a less stressful and lower-paying job.
Single-payer health care can’t solve the income-loss problem, which is a much bigger factor in personal bankruptcies.
The next misleading statement came from Sen. Kamala Harris.
“It is not an exaggeration to say women will die, poor women, women of color will die, because these Republican legislatures” are limiting abortion, she said.
Here’s her argument. If abortion is illegal, some women will still want abortions. They will try methods of abortion that are more dangerous for the expectant mother. This dodges the key question of whether a preborn child is a human being. If so, Harris’ argument is the equivalent of bemoaning laws against murder because they make it more dangerous for a woman to kill her husband.
The third dubious claim came from Beto O’Rourke. “This is a country that loses 40,000 of our fellow Americans every year to gun violence,” he said.
He’s stretching the term “violence” to make people think the problem of firearm murders is worse than it is. Around two-thirds of those 40,000 deaths are suicides. O’Rourke wants to confiscate assault rifles, but rifles were involved in fewer than 300 murders last year, according to FBI statistics.
These misleading statements are effective talking points, but they aren’t accurate.
Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.