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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Kerry Health Care Ad: Exaggerated, But Mostly on Target

He says 43 million don't have 'health care.' He means they don't have insurance.


Kerry released a TV ad June 3 in which he tells a small gathering that 43 million don’t have health care. That’s not true — he means they don’t have health insurance. He also says health care “ought to be a right that we make accessible and affordable to every single American.” But even his own proposals fall short of making health care a “right,” and would leave an estimated 16 million uninsured.

Despite the exaggeration, Kerry’s ad gives a generally correct impression of a growing problem, and highlights a major point of difference between the candidates on what to do about it.


The ad is named “Country,” and it opens with Kerry standing in front of three American flags, telling a small group “I love this country.” You can’t get much more positive than that.

Of course, he hastens to add: “and I think it’s going in the wrong direction.”

Kerry Ad: “Country”

Kerry: I want to be President of the United States because I love this country and I think it’s going in the wrong direction.

People are worried about how they are going to be able to have a retirement. How are you going to have health care?

43 million Americans don’t have it. This is wrong. In the richest country on the face of the planet, no American ought to be struggling to be able to have health care.

It ought to be a right that we make accessible and affordable to every single American.

I’m John Kerry and I approved this message.

Kerry never mentions Bush. The ad is mostly a generalized pitch for Kerry’s package of proposals to expand health insurance coverage to most of those who currently lack it.

Overstating the Problem

Kerry is focusing on a major domestic problem. Both the cost of health insurance and the number of Americans who lack it have been shooting up in recent years. According to the Census Bureau, the number of uninsured rose by 2.4 million, to 43.6 million, between 2001 and 2002. It was the second yearly increase in a row. More than 15% of the population lacked insurance in 2002, and figures for 2003 are expected to show another increase when they are released in September because the spiraling cost of coverage is putting pressure on companies to drop or reduce coverage.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the cost of private health insurance rose 13.9% in 2003, following increases of 12.9% in 2002 and 10.9% in 2001. The average yearly insurance premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance were $3,383 for single coverage and $9,068 for family coverage in 2003.

Kerry went too far, however, when he said “How are you going to have health care? Forty-three million Americans don’t have it.” Even those who lack health insurance still have access to health care in hospital emergency rooms and clinics.

Still, Kerry’s exaggeration contained a good deal of truth. Lacking insurance does reduce care. A recent report for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said those who lack insurance are less likely to get needed medical care or to have a personal physician, less likely to get preventive care, and twice as likely to be in poor health or fair health. And a separate survey of 1,954 emergency-room doctors shows 74% of them say their patients without insurance are more likely to die prematurely.

Overstating the Proposed Solution

Kerry’s ad also gives an overblown idea of his own proposed solution to the health insurance problem. He says, “no American ought to be struggling to be able to have health care. It ought to be a right that we make accessible and affordable to every single American.”

To be sure, Kerry stops short in this ad of a specific promise to deliver insurance coverage to “every single American,” but many listeners will surely hear a promise implied in his words.

In fact, Kerry does have an ambitious proposal to extend health insurance to most of those who don’t have it now. However, it’s just not true that his plan would make health care a “right” or provide coverage for “every single American.”Actually, Kerry’s proposals are estimated to bring insurance coverage up to just under 95% of the population, as Kerry himself stated in a major speech as recently as May 10, and in an outline of his plan posted on his campaign Web site. That’s in line with an independent estimate of Kerry’s plan by Kenneth Thorpe of Emory University, a health-care expert who served in the Clinton administration. Thorpe says, “When fully implemented, it (Kerry’s plan) would extend coverage to 27 of the 43 million uninsured, effectively covering 95 percent of all Americans.”

That would be a major accomplishment — and an expensive one. Thorpe estimates the cost at $653 billion over 10 years. But it would still leave about 16 million Americans without coverage.



Watch Kerry Ad: “Country”


Robert J. Mills and Shailesh Bhandari, “Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2002,” US Census Bureau, 30 Sept 2003.

University of Minnesota, States Health Access Data Assistance Center, “Characteristics of the Uninsured: A View from the States,” Prepared for The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 5 May 2004.

The American College of Emergency Physicians, “As Uninsured Patients Turn To Emergency Departments For Care Of Untreated Illness, Emergency Physicians Call For Coverage For All Americans,” report of poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, 13 May 2004.

John Kerry Web site, “Affordable Health Care for All Americans,” remarks prepared for delivery at Edinboro University, Edinboro, Pennsylvania, 10 May 2004.


Kenneth E. Thorpe, “Federal Costs and Savings Associated with Senator Kerry’s Health Care Plan,” Emory University, 2 April 2004.