Tanner: Families USA Health Study Flawed

Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute wrote an article for today’s Rocky Mountain News that criticizes a recent study by Families USA. That study, Tanner summarizes, claims ” that 360 Colorado residents die each year because they lack health insurance.” Tanner notes that, “all things being equal, it is better to be insured than uninsured,” but Families USA misstates the actual problem.

Tanner writes:

The Families USA study was not a traditional “double blind” experiment with a control group and a treatment group. Rather, it is a retrospective analysis, which compared the rates of people who died with insurance to those who died without insurance. Since the proportion of people without insurance seemed to be higher than those with insurance, they extrapolated likelihood to project excess deaths due to lack of insurance. But there are just too many outside variables to make such interpretations valid.

Even the Urban Institute’s Jack Hadley, who co-authored a similar Institute of Medicine study cited by Families USA has said that “observational studies . . . cannot answer the question of whether health insurance directly affects health outcomes.” And a detailed review of the academic literature by Helen Levy and David Meltzer of the University of Chicago Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies found little proof of a “causal relationship” between health insurance and better health.

Moreover, the reason that many people cannot afford insurance is that political controls have priced them out of the market. Yet Families USA is dedicated to promoting even more political control of medicine.

Tanner continues:

One thing we know for certain is that government-run health-care systems frequently deny critical procedures to patients who need them. For example, at any given time, 750,000 Britons are waiting for admission to National Health Service hospitals, and shortages force the NHS to cancel as many as 50,000 operations each year. And in Canada, more than 800,000 patients are currently on waiting lists for medical procedures. … A study by Christopher J. Conover with the Center for Health Policy, Law and Management in the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy at Duke University found that as many as 22,000 Americans die each year from the costs associated with excess regulation.

Tanner notes that various mandated benefits in Colorado significantly increase the cost of health insurance.

It’s quite a coincidence that the flawed Families USA study popped just before State Senator Bob Hagedorn starting pushing bill 217, which, originally, advocated forcing individuals to buy health insurance.

Hagedorn recently said that 217 is “the antithesis of what Massachusetts has done.” Yet 217 still creates the possibility of an individual mandate, the core of the Massachusetts plan.

The Daily Sentinel reports, “Senate Bill 217 would have carriers submit plans to the state rather than have the state dictate the kinds of plans it would require carriers to offer, Hagedorn said.”

What a joke. Bill 217 would in fact dictate what sort of plans carriers must submit. Moreover, once the plans are submitted, the legislature can continue to impose more controls on them.

It is interesting, though, that Hagedorn is now running away from Massachusetts, even though the Massachusetts plan is in fact the primary model for proposed plans in Colorado. Paul Hsieh has collected numerous stories describing the problems with the Massachusetts plan.

If reformers such as Hagedorn get their way, perhaps politicians in other states can pretend that their statist proposals are the “the antithesis of what Colorado has done.”