Monday, November 12, 2007

11-12-07 Numbers That Are Both True and Misleading

When public figures talk about health care reform, odds are that they are referring to the 47 million Americans who are not covered by health insurance. On the face of it, that seems to be a disgraceful situation crying out for remedy.

Remedy may be in order, but according to Harvard Economics Professor N. Gregory Mankiw, the situation is not as disgraceful as the numbers might indicate.

Writing in the November 4, 2007 Sunday New York Times, Professor Mankiw points out that:

- Of the 47 million, 10 million are illegal immigrants who most likely would not have coverage even under national health insurance.
- The number includes unknown millions who are eligible for Medicaid but have never applied.
- The Census Bureau reports that 18 million of the uninsured have family incomes of more than $50,000 per year, putting them in the top half of the income distribution.
- About a quarter of the uninsured have been offered employer-provided insurance but have declined coverage.

Among other things, these observations may cast some light on why concern about the uninsured seems to be concentrated more among health care providers and political activists than among the uninsured themselves.

There are for sure people who need health insurance but either can’t get it or can’t afford it and something needs to be done about that. But according to Professor Mankiw there are fewer of them than we are being led to believe and he poses the question of whether their number is sufficient to justify drastic changes in a system that is working well for most people.

I think he has a point.

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