Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Durbin getting all snarky with a constituent

Thanks to Ed Morrissey for providing this clip of my Senator, Dick Durbin, at a townhall event yesterday evening. Of course, I didn't know about the townhall until I saw this clip, on a national web site, but I'm sure that's how Durbin wanted it anyway.

Not only was Durbin clueless when it came to individual mandates in the House bill (which really, by this time, you don't even have to have read the bill to know it includes individual mandates), but he continued to spread misinformation about our current system as a way of justifying his government-centric health care goals - namely, that most bankruptcies are caused by medical problems. My stomach hurts at the idea of listening to him closely enough to transcribe where he addresses this, but here goes anyway.

"I'm glad for your experience and that you came out of it without debt, but you are an exception. When you look at the filings for personal bankruptcy in America today, 31% were for medical bills just a few years ago, that's doubled. And, it turns out that of the 62% who are filing for personal and family bankruptcy because of medical bills, 78% have health insurance. It's just not good health insurance, and it doesn't cover them...a lot of people are facing bankruptcy today because they're not in that good position. And, I'd like to take you back to one sentence you said, the government is going to force us to take an option. Listen to what you said. It's an option. If you don't want to choose the government plan, you don't have to. It's an option. You can choose private health insurance."

I'm no math whiz, but Durbin thinks that 62% of individual bankruptcies are because of medical bills that pile up. First of all, even under his own theory, he says that close to 80% of those people have health insurance, but it just doesn't work for them. That's false; the controversial study he's referencing states that nearly 2/3 of personal bankruptcies are due to uninsured medical treatment and loss of coverage. Brett Skinner of AEI's The American analyzed the study and also compared American and Canadian rates of bankruptcy due to medical reasons, since Canada already has the type of system we're heading toward.
"Th[is] medical bankruptcy study has been soundly refuted by several researchers. This includes critiques published by David Dranove and Michael Millenson in Health Affairs and a working paper by the American Enterprise Institute’s Aparna Mathur.

The idea that large numbers of Americans are declaring bankruptcy due to medical expenses is a myth. Dranove and Millenson critically analyzed the data from the 2005 edition of the medical bankruptcy study. They found that medical spending was a contributing factor in only 17 percent of U.S. bankruptcies. They also reviewed other research, including studies by the Department of Justice, finding that medical debts accounted for only 12 percent to 13 percent of the total debts among American bankruptcy filers who cited medical debt as one of their reasons for bankruptcy.

As for the notion that greater government involvement in health insurance will reduce bankruptcy, it is helpful to compare personal bankruptcy rates in the United States and Canada. Unlike the United States, Canada has a universal, government-run health insurance system. Following the logic of Himmelstein and colleagues, we should therefore expect to observe a lower rate of personal bankruptcy in Canada compared to the United States.

Yet the evidence shows that in the only comparable years, personal bankruptcy rates were actually higher in Canada. Personal bankruptcy filings as a percentage of the population were 0.20 percent in the United States during 2006 and 0.27 percent in 2007. In Canada, the numbers are 0.30 percent in both 2006 and 2007. The data are from government sources and defined in similar ways for both countries and cover the time period after the legal reforms to U.S. bankruptcy laws in 2005 and before the onset of the 2008 economic recession.

The truth is that the majority of debt among bankrupt consumers in both Canada and the United States is comprised of non-medical expenditures and therefore has little to do with health insurance coverage.

On the rare occasion that medical debts do partially contribute to bankruptcy, they likely accumulate from patients’ demands for the kinds of expensive, cutting-edge or end-of-life treatments that would never be covered by government insurance anyway. It is a fact that many of these same types of expensive treatments are increasingly not insured by government healthcare in Canada. Survey research commissioned by the Canadian government found that despite having a government-run health system, medical reasons (including uninsured expenses), were cited as the primary cause of bankruptcy by approximately 15 percent of bankrupt Canadian seniors (55 years of age and older).

There is no objective evidence to indicate that a government-run health care system in the United States will reduce personal bankruptcies. The U.S.-Canada comparative analysis strongly suggests that bankruptcy statistics are being exaggerated and distorted for political reasons."

The Dranove and Millenson study Skinner cites found that among the 17% whose bankruptcies appear to be linked to an inability to pay their medical bills, most have income within the poverty level. They certainly don't have private insurance that doesn't work for them as Durbin suggested.

And it's no wonder Durbin didn't want to hold any town hall forums this summer when his strongest argument was, look at the phrase you used, public option. What should he have called it? The public-no-other-option? The step 1 to single-payer public option? I mean, come on, that's all you've got Senator? Your only answer is to play semantics with a man who got up and told you his personal health story of overcoming Hodgkins lymphoma, and you remind him of the label Democrats chose to place on this monstrous transformation of our health care system? Perhaps you raise a good point; perhaps those of us that are anti-ObamaCare ought to stop calling it an 'option' altogether since it's been shown over and over that that term is clearly not based in reality.

Or, here's another thought Senator. Before you start getting all clever on us with your word games, and before you have another panel discussion about health care, how about you sit down and at the very least, even if you don't read the House bill since I guess that would be beneath you as a Senator (and you wouldn't have time for that given all that you've been...hey, what exactly have you been working on all summer? This constituent would like to know, but I digress...), why don't you at least do some research and inform yourself as to what the issues are before you start accusing others of 'misrepresenting the issues', 'sucker-punching their opponents' and 'engaging in political theater'?

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