Fox's Garrett exaggerated in claiming Obama's statistic on bankruptcies tied to health costs is "[n]ot even close"

››› ››› MARCIA KUNTZ & MATT GERTZ

At a March 5 health-care forum, President Obama said, "The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America every 30 seconds." On Special Report, Major Garrett reported that when asked to support that statistic, the White House cited a 2005 op-ed by Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren in which she referred to a Harvard study that supports the statistic. But Garrett did not note this. Instead, he referred to Treasury Department statistics from 2000 and pronounced Obama's assertion "[n]ot even close."

During the March 5 edition of Fox News' Special Report, White House correspondent Major Garrett left out key data from a report he cited to accuse President Obama of making a claim about health-care costs and bankruptcies that was "[n]ot even close" to accurate.

At a March 5 health-care forum, Obama said, "The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America every 30 seconds." Garrett reported that when asked for support for the statistic, the White House cited a 2005 Washington Post op-ed by Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, in which Warren wrote:" Every 30 seconds in the United States, someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem." Garrett noted that in that op-ed, Warren referred to a 2005 Harvard study, of which she was a co-author. But rather than note that the 2005 study cites statistics from 2001 that support Warren's -- and indirectly Obama's -- assertion, Garrett noted that the study relies on 2001 statistics, but then referred to Treasury Department statistics from 2000 that he said did not support Warren's assertion. Based on the 2000 data, which were not the basis for the Harvard study or Warren's op-ed, Garrett then pronounced Obama's assertion "[n]ot even close."

In fact, according a March 5 post by ABC News director of polling Gary Langer at the ABCNews.com blog The Numbers, Warren's co-author, Harvard professor David Himmelstein, wrote that Obama's error was in not relying on more recent statistics:

Himmelstein tells me that the reason for the difference is a change in federal law that sharply reduced the number of bankruptcies. In 2005, the year he and Warren wrote their op-ed, there were just over 2 million bankruptcies. Data out just today say that in 2008 there were 1.1 million (up sharply, by the way, over 2007). So this error in the White House claim stems simply from the fact that it's using out-of-date information. The next question is whether the estimate of "medical bankruptcies" is reliable in the first place. [italics in original]

In other words, Garrett's characterization of Obama's assertion as "[n]ot even close" is itself an exaggeration.

From the March 5 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:

GARRETT: And the cost is staggering -- consumers and the government paid $2.4 trillion for health care last year. That's 16 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. In 10 years, the healthcare tab could be $4.4 trillion, and 20 percent of GDP. And the president says there's a more immediate problem, and it sounds alarming.

OBAMA: The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America every 30 seconds.

GARRETT: But the White House could not provide a statistic to back this up. They pointed to a 2005 Washington Post column written by Harvard scholar Elizabeth Warren. In it, she said, quote, "Every 30 seconds in the United States, someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem." Serious health problem, not, as the president said, the ordinary cost of healthcare.

But Warren's data comes from a survey of bankruptcies in 2001, and it says 2.2 million Americans are affected by bankruptcy -- not filed for, but are affected by. What's more, a Treasury Department survey in 2000 found medical costs were, quote, "not a major factor," unquote, in bankruptcies filed that year. A senior White House economist could not back up the president's bankruptcy-every-30-seconds assertion.

CHRISTINA ROMER (chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers): I'm going to have to check the numbers for you. I think the important thing is the idea is absolutely true.

GARRETT: High healthcare costs do contribute to bankruptcies, accounting for about a third of those filed in 2006. But one every 30 seconds? Not even close.

Posted In
Economy, Health Care
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Major Garrett
Show/Publication
Special Report with Bret Baier
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