When Republicans claim they can't get a fair shake from news media, they have weeks like this one in mind.
The new Congressional Budget Office report for the Senate's Obamacare repeal bill has revived a false claim, parroted by many once respectable media outfits, that millions of people (this time 22 million, one million fewer than the House version of the bill) will "lose their insurance."
An estimate that says $1 trillion more spending will insure only a million more people is obviously fishy. But let's set that smell-test aside. Let's also set aside the fact that the CBO arrived at its number by using an imaginary and unrealistic baseline number for what Obamacare was likely to insure years from now. Even without those two glaring problems, there remains the irreducible fact that CBO does not claim that anywhere near 22 million will "lose their insurance." It has said only that its best guess is that fewer people will obtain insurance than if Obamacare were to remain the law.
More galling yet is the claim that the Senate's modest proposals will "kill" nearly 29,000 additional people each year." This is the worst sort of fact-free appeal, and a good example of why there is little intelligent discussion of politics anymore.
There are so many things wrong with this argument that it's hard to deal with all of them. We'll only refer to the fact that the death rate increased for the first time in 20 years beginning at exactly the same time Obamacare went into effect. With very few exceptions, it's pretty safe to ignore predictions about how many lives a bill will take.
We could save far more than 29,000 people a year by banning the automobile, or setting a 3 mile per hour speed limit. Who will be the first to argue that Republicans in Congress are killing 40,000 people every year for failing to implement such a policy, which no one would accept? There are trade-offs for every new rule or law, no matter how good its intentions.
There are more serious problems than that with the claim that reforming Obamacare will increase deaths by a five-figure number. A big one is that the connection between being insured and being healthy is weak. Far weaker is the connection between having health coverage and not dying. Buying insurance doesn't make you healthier any more than buying travel insurance makes a vacation safer.
A 2008 study of Medicaid patients in Oregon has become famous because it demonstrated that you can give people insurance free in a controlled environment and they might still end up with worse health outcomes than similarly situated people who go uninsured at the same time. The insured in that study had less stress and greater peace of mind because health insurance is a financial product, a safeguard against expensive risks. It is not usually a safeguard against illness or early death.
Health coverage is not the same thing as healthcare. Tens of thousands of veterans who died of old age or sickness while waiting for appointments at the VA can attest to that. So can many Medicaid patients whom doctors won't agree to treat. Likewise, many Obamacare customers find that their networks are so narrow that they must drive more than an hour to get to the nearest hospital that will give them non-emergency care.
There are good reasons to criticize Senate Republicans' healthcare bill. Liberals can argue without stretching the truth that more people will go without health insurance if it passes. They can make the case that this is bad for society even if, as is the case with many of those people, they are choosing to do without insurance. But the hysterical claim that a piece of legislation will kill 29,000 people is one that no educated or thoughtful person should take seriously.