Elizabeth Warren is a fraud

No, I’m not talking about her Indian thing, although there is that. I’m talking about her study more than a decade ago on the causes of bankruptcy. It purported to show that medical bills cause about half of bankruptcies.

The purpose of the study was, at least in part, to fuel the drive for single-payer health insurance. Indeed, two of the co-authors belonged to the group Physicians for a National Health Program that advocates for single-payer.

Our friend Gail Heriot pointed to major flaws in the study. She noted that the study actually analyzed medically-caused bankruptcies, not bankruptcies caused by medical bills. As she explains:

Illness sometimes causes people to lose their jobs and hence their income, which can lead to bankruptcy. Obamacare doesn’t change that.

In addition, Heriot showed that the Warren study grossly inflated the number of bankruptcies having a “medical cause.” It did so by including all cases of “uncontrolled gambling,” “alcohol or drug addiction,” and “birth/addition of a new family member” and by including cases where relatively modest medical bills acted in combination with other debts.

Heriot’s analysis was ignored at the time. In contrast to the vast amount of attention Warren’s study garnered, her response went unnoticed. She tells us that her attempts to discuss the matter with reporters were greeted with indifference and, in at least one case, hostility. One of Warren’s co-authors called Gail to ask who was paying her. (No one was.)

Later, as the Obamacare debate heated up, Warren updated her study. This time, she and her co-authors found that “using a conservative definition, 62.1 percent of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical.”

This number drew some pushback. Megan McCardle attacked it here and here. She concluded:

There is, of course, a large amount of terrible advocacy masquerading [as] social science out there, and too many journals and journalists abet it. But this is particularly troubling because Elizabeth Warren is now in charge of overseeing the TARP program for Congress. What other inconvenient facts is she shielding us from?

Terrible advocacy masquerading as social science though it was, the new Warren study became a staple of the advocacy for Obamacare. In fact, President Obama relied on it in his 2009 State of the Union address.

But now, the Washington Post reports that a new study shows Warren’s figures to be wildly off-the-mark. The new study finds that, in reality, hospitalizations cause only about 4 percent of bankruptcies among the non-elderly adults. This finding is based on hospitalizations that occurred several years before the federal Affordable Care Act expanded insurance coverage to millions of Americans.

What about the uninsured? The study estimates that hospitalizations were responsible for only about 6 percent of bankruptcies among this group.

Anyone can make a mistake and honest studies can reach varying conclusions. But the difference between 50 percent — later revised to 62 percent — and 4 percent can’t be the result of a mistake or honest variation. It has to be the result of manipulation — the manipulation Gail Heriot exposed way back in 2006.

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