Fact checking medical care expense bankruptcies

Patrick Gibbons

President Barack Obama last night made a claim that medical care expenses have led to 1 million bankruptcies. Congresswoman Dina Titus appeared on KNPR radio today to repeat that error.

As Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute has noted, "Those figures on health care bankruptcies have long since been discredited. In 2007, the last year data was available, there were just over 822,000 non-business bankruptcies nationwide. But according to a study by Dr. Ning Zhu at UC-Davis, only 5 percent of them were caused by medical bills. That's only 41,000 medical bankruptcies, a far cry from the more than 1 million Obama implies. In fact, seniors who qualify for Medicare (universal health coverage) are 125 percent more likely to go bankrupt than people under age 65."

By the way, if Dina Titus and Barack Obama are so interested in making health care affordable, why don't they stop taxing it? Why aren't they trying to lift barriers to entry? Why don't they eliminate prohibitive laws that outlaw private citizens buying insurance out of state? Why don't they encourage more Health Savings Accounts so people are motivated to hold individual doctors accountable for their bills? Currently, doctors often face little constraints on the prices they charge, since third party companies, rather than the customers, are paying the bills.

Of course, since all of these steps make too much sense, maybe the real goal is not making health care affordable.