Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bad Journalism, Part MCCCLIII

From Reuters, headline: Medical bills underlie 60 percent of U.S. bankruptcies: study

Yeesh! That's a lot! Particularly with the housing crisis, which eroded something like 30% of America's real-estate values, you'd expect housing costs to be right up there. Apparently not!

Let's take a closer look.
Medical bills are involved in more than 60 percent of U.S. personal bankruptcies, an increase of 50 percent in just six years, U.S. researchers reported on Thursday.
Hmm. The headline claims that medical bills "underlie" bankruptcies. The first line here says that they "are involved" in bankruptcies. This suggests that my involvement with, say, my department constitutes a more substantial role on my part--in fact, I underlie my department--I rule.

Note: do not break it to your significant other that you've been "underlying" someone else.

Also--who the hell are "U.S. researchers"? Are they people who research the U.S.? Is it American researchers? Is it so many people that they can't be listed? (It's two people.)
About 170 million people get health insurance through an employer but President Barack Obama says soaring healthcare costs are hurting the economy and forcing businesses to drop medical insurance for their workers.
I guess there's nothing terrible about this sentence, it just me, or shouldn't there be a comma after "employer"? Also, the second part of the sentence doesn't really relate to the first as a counterfactual, does it? And the writer couldn't dig up a study or an expert for this claim about healthcare? Obama is the word, apparently.
"Nationally, a quarter of firms cancel coverage immediately when an employee suffers a disabling illness; another quarter do so within a year," the report reads.
Is this because firms tend to lay people with "disabling illness" off? Can I really expect Wake to foot my bills indefinitely if I drop into a ten-year coma?
"We need to rethink health reform," Woolhandler said. "Covering the uninsured isn't enough.

"Only single-payer national health insurance can make universal, comprehensive coverage affordable by saving the hundreds of billions we now waste on insurance overhead and bureaucracy."
So that's it? We go from hospital bills being frequently "involved" in bankruptcies, straight to an unqualified, unequivocal claims that single-payer systems are the "only...affordable" way of getting "universal, comprehensive coverage"?

Also, note the number of economics/business/accounting degrees present between Drs. Woolhandler & Himmelstein.

And, in completely predictable fashion, buried in the final two sentences of the piece, is the following:
While only 29 percent directly blamed medical bills for their bankruptcy, 62 percent had medical bills that totaled more than 10 percent of family income, said an illness was responsible, had lost income due to illness or some other medical factor.
Try parsing that. Then compare to the headline.


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