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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Bad Bankruptcy Stat, Repeated

Last week on our main site, we pointed out that President Obama used an incorrect statistic on bankruptcies caused by medical expenses in his address to Congress. And yesterday, he repeated it,

as Jake Tapper at ABC News noted


Tapper: "The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds," President Obama said at the opening of his White House forum on health care reform just now.

As we said then (and Tapper kindly links to us in his report): Last year, someone filed for bankruptcy roughly every 30 seconds, according to data from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. That’s a bankruptcy for any reason — not just the cost of health care. A 2005 Harvard study attributed half of all bankruptcies to health expenses, which would mean there’s a bankruptcy caused by health care every minute — at most. That study’s estimate has been questioned, however. It relied on a broad definition for medical bankruptcies. As we wrote back in Dec. 2008: The study "determined that 46.2 percent of bankruptcies were attributable to a major medical reason," which included illness or injury, uncovered medical bills of more than $1,000 in the past two years, loss of two weeks of pay because of illness, or mortgaging a home to pay health care bills. "Any medical bankruptcy" under the study also included people who cited addiction, uncontrolled gambling or childbirth as a cause, bringing the "medical bankruptcies" percentage up to 54.5 percent.

Tapper says ABC News polling director Gary Langer found the Harvard estimate to be inflated when it first came out. Langer says Obama’s bankruptcy claim is "simply unsupportable."