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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Grayson’s Iffy Claims

Florida Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson is facing rebuke from House Republicans for saying that "Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick." In a Sept. 29 speech on the House floor, Grayson said that the Republican health care plan is: "Don’t get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly." Grayson later told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, "What I mean is they have got no plan," and that the lack of plan would allow uninsurance-related deaths to continue. But House Republicans introduced health care legislation in July, calling for changes to the tort system, new tax incentives and risk pooling plans.

After being called on to apologize, Grayson instead "apologize[d] to the dead," citing figures from a recent study. He said that 44,789 Americans a year die because of lack of health insurance, more than ten times the number of deaths from the Iraq war or September 11. He’s right about the comparisons – the Iraq war casualties are 4,350 to date, and the September 11 attacks killed 2,973 people. But is his curiously precise figure accurate?

To support it, Grayson cited a Harvard study that we analyzed in an earlier Wire post, "Dying from Lack of Insurance." We found that while we couldn’t say whether the figure was accurate, several other studies also showed thousands of excess deaths from uninsurance. A 2008 examination by the Urban Institute produced lower estimates – 22,000 to 27,000 excess deaths – but the Harvard study used more recent data. We also pointed out that critics of the studies have noted that the uninsured have other characteristics that would lead to poor health besides the lack of insurance. But as the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine found: "Uninsured Americans frequently delay or forgo doctors’ visits, prescription medications, and other effective treatments, even when they have serious disease or life-threatening conditions."

Grayson told reporters that "I didn’t violate the rules of the House." He’s right there. If misrepresenting the other side’s position were against House rules, hardly any elected official would escape reprimand. But he’s wrong that the Republicans have "no plan," whether he likes it or not, and it certainly doesn’t boil down to "die quickly." He’s right that maintaining the status quo would mean deaths from lack of insurance, but as for how many, he’s relying on one study’s estimate.