Last night, David Shuster guest-hosted for MSNBCâ€™s Keith Olbermann. Shuster interviewed Bernie Sanders, a self-avowed socialist and U.S. Senator from Vermont, on the prospective glories of universal healthcare. Calling for a government-run alternative to our present system, Sanders said gravely: â€œWe have a disastrous health care situation in this country.Â Forty-six million uninsured, more underinsured, 20,000 people dying every year because they donâ€™t get to a doctor on time.â€
But as Sally Pipes explains in her monumentally important book,Â The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care, the 46 million figure cited by Sanders is pure, unadulterated fiction.
First, about 14 million of those uninsured are low-income Americans who are fully eligible for government assistance programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIPâ€”but who simply havenâ€™t gotten around to enrolling in these programs. They could visit a doctor, clinic, or hospital anywhere in the country and enroll in those programs, on the spot, and receive treatment. Can any honest person really argue that these 14 million people are â€œuninsuredâ€? Of course not.
Another 10 million of the uninsured are not even U.S. citizens; many of them are illegal immigrants. Is it good public policy to burden American taxpayers with the health-care costs of non-citizens and illegal immigrants? Of course not.
And, while Sanders broadly paints the uninsured as people who are financially unable to afford health insurance of any kind, the fact isÂ that some 28 million of the 46 million uninsured earn more than $50,000 annually –Â well above the national median income.
Many ofÂ those 28 millionÂ are healthy young adults who are not insured by their employers and who choose not to buy insurance on their own because they would rather use their money for other things. Indeed, Americans aged 19 to 29 represent one of the largest and fastest-growing segments of the uninsured population.
One reason whyÂ young peopleÂ commonly forego insurance is that the price is too high for their needs and their finances. Why? Because the government has imposed many hundreds of mandates on insurance companies, forcing them to offer only policies that cover a sweepingly broad range of ailments and treatments, rather thanÂ allowing them to offerÂ (much less expensive) policies that are more narrowly tailored to the specific needs of particular demographics.
For example, not all people who desire insurance necessarily want to be covered for massage therapy, breast reduction, hair prosthesis, contraceptives, dieticians, drug-abuse treatment, prostate cancer, hormone-replacement therapy, in-vitro fertilization, speech therapy, or varicose-vein removal. But because of mandates, they are forced to choose between payingÂ extra for such coverages or going without insurance altogether. In 1979 there were only 252 mandate laws in force nationwide.Â By 2007, that number had risen to 1,901.Â These mandates drive up the cost of insurance by as much as 50 percent.
The demographic groups cited in the paragraphs above are not mutually exclusive; there is some overlap. And indeed some people do â€œfall through the cracks.â€ These are mostly people who earn less than $50,000 per year but too much to qualify for government assistance. There are roughly 8 million of these chronically uninsured, and they are indeed in need of assistance.
But thereâ€™s an enormous difference between 8 million and 46 million. Bernie Sanders isnâ€™t too dumb to understand the facts presented above. Neither is Barack Obama, who is leading the charge toward universal healthcare.
What motivates them, then, to exaggerate the numbers so greatly? Could it be that if chronically dishonest political opportunists like Sanders and Obama were to present their case with real numbers rather than fictitious ones, they wouldnâ€™t be able to frighten the public into agreeing that we must hurriedly dismantle the most effective and innovative healthcare system the human race has ever known? Of course.