Saturday, February 05, 2005

Reuters, There You Go Again

When I saw the Reuters headline "Half of bankruptcy due to medical bills-US study," I knew that no legitimate study, or at least no legitimate reading of a study, could reach a conclusion that so violates experience. The Right Coast went through the study, and found many facts that made the Reuters reading of it ridiculous.
Don't get me wrong. Some bankruptcies are caused by catastrophic medical debt. But they aren’t half of all bankruptcies, and the only way to make it look like they are is to jimmy the figures. For example, the study classifies “uncontrolled gambling,” “drug addiction,” “alcohol addiction,” and the “birth or adoption” of a child as “a medical cause,” regardless of whether medical bills are involved. Yes, there may be situations in which a researcher might legitimately want to classify those conditions as “medical,” but an attempt to prove that Americans are going bankrupt as a result of crushing medical bills is not one of them. A father who has gambled away his family’s mortgage payment is not likely the victim of crushing medical debt. Similarly, the couple who find they can no longer afford their previous life-style now that Mom or Dad has to stay home with the baby will usually find the obstetrician’s bill the least of their problems. Babies are a financial hardship even when hospitals give them away free.

Maybe that's why only 28.3% of the surveyed debtors themselves agreed with the authors that their bankruptcy was caused in a substantial manner by "illness or injury;" the rest presumably put the blame elsewhere.

Buried in the study is the fact that only 27% of the surveyed debtors had unreimbursed medical expenses exceeding $1000 over the course of the two years prior to their bankruptcy. Presumably 73%–the vast majority-- had medical expenses during that two-year period of $1000 or less. Had that figure been recited up front, it would have been obvious that the authors had to massage the data pretty hard to support the conclusion that half of bankruptcies are somehow driven by medical costs.

So much for that study. Maybe Reuters should look around its native UK and report on how many Britons die while waiting for rationed medical care. It may cost a lot here, but at least it is available.


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