In his speech to Congress last night, President Obama said there are “now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get [health insurance] coverage.” In his July 22 press conference (when he urged immediate passage of ObamaCare before Congress could adjourn and meet constituents), the president said there were “47 million Americans who have no health insurance.”
How did the situation change by 17 million Americans in less than two months?
The answer is that the president’s 47 million figure included some 9.7 million people who are not U.S. citizens, as well as some 11 million people “thought to be eligible for public insurance programs but have failed to enroll,” according to the figures in the August 23 New York Times editorial entitled “The Uninsured.” If those two categories are subtracted, the actual number of uninsured Americans is about 26 million, even lower than the figure the president used last night.
The Times editorial listed another 4.7 million people from households with incomes of $88,000 or more (which “many experts use to define who can afford to buy their own insurance”), which if subtracted from the 26 million figure would bring the number down to about 21 million.
Another 4.3 million people (according to the Times) are from households with incomes of $75,000 or more—who perhaps could afford insurance if relatively simple reforms made it less expensive (such as interstate insurance competition and tort/regulatory reform that would reduce costly defensive medicine).
That would bring the number down to about 17 million—a number that itself includes young people who choose to bear their own medical expenses rather than purchase expensive insurance they feel they are not likely to need, and people who are between jobs or otherwise only temporarily uninsured.
Whatever the correct net figure, it is substantially below the 47 million figure the president used in July and the 30 million figure he used last night.
This is not to suggest that the proper response is to “do nothing”; nor that “only” 17 million people is not a problem; nor even that illegal aliens are properly excluded from our concern. It is rather to observe that the president sounds like an unregulated insurance salesman—pitching a policy he tells us we must buy right now (it may not be available after next November), promising it will virtually pay for itself (through “savings” and elimination of “waste”), be financed by taxes he’ll get others to pay, provide better coverage than we’ve ever had before, and warning us not to listen to competing salesmen because they (unlike him) use scare tactics and false assertions.