Press Release Reporting on Bankruptcy Numbers
The American Journal of Medicine released a study yesterday purporting to show that “62.1% of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical.” This claim was then picked up by multiple reporters including the Los Angeles Times‘ Lisa Girion (”medical bills contributed to 62% of all bankruptcies”), Reuters‘ Maggie Fox (”medical bills are behind more than 60 percent of U.S. personal bankruptcies”) and the Sacramento Bee’s Bobby Caina Calvan (”the cost of health care continues to burden Americans in alarming numbers, with 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies in 2007 blamed on unaffordable medical bills”).
All of these stories repeat the study’s findings uncritically despite the author’s well established advocacy pasts and motives. The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle highlights just some of the questionable elements of the study:
Now, it is possible that this is true. The fact that it seems to disagree with every other study I’ve ever read that is not authored by Elizabeth Warren, and also, the self-reports of the people in her study (only about a third of whom attribute their bankruptcy to a health problem) could just be a fluke. … Warren and her co-authors have obscured important and obvious facts that call the integrity of the work into serious question.
Yet Warren, et al. claim their current results both show a dramatic increase, and are in robust agreement with their earlier study. How could steadily, moderately rising medical bills, a roughly static business and legislative environment, and a small increase in the uninsured, possibly have driven up bankruptcies so massively?
Answer: they didn’t. What Warren et. al. neglect to mention is that bankruptcies fell between 2001 and 2007. In fact, they were cut in half. Going by the numbers Warren et. al. provide, medical bankruptcies actually fell by almost 220,000 between 2001 and 2007, a fact that they not only fail to mention, but deliberately obscure.
their own work shows medical bankruptcies falling in the years between 2001 and 2007, which would seem to invalidate, not support, the claim that half of all bankruptcies in 2001 were driven by medical events beyond the household’s control.
Elementary googling reveals that the two doctors who co-authored this study are prominent spokespeople for Physicians for a National Health Program, and thus have an obvious agenda, one that Elizabeth Warren has not been shy about sharing.
The LAT, the Bee, and Reuters all owe their readers more than lazy press release reporting.