'Good Morning America's' Snowe Job on Medical Bankruptcies

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is a media darling now that she was the only Republican to break ranks and vote a health care reform bill out of the Senate Finance Committee Oct. 13. “Good Morning America” interviewed Snowe about health care reform on Oct. 14 and didn’t challenge a misleading statistic about the number of medical-caused bankruptcies.

Snowe, who backed the $829-billion bill, claimed that “62 percent of all bankruptcies are a result of medical debt. I can’t imagine that kind of anxiety. It’s one thing to deal with an illness, quite another to deal with the fact you don’t have the insurance to cover for it.”

The senator did not mention the source of her claim or point out that respondents to the study she cited didn’t even agree with that result. CNN.com reported on June 5 that the 62 percent figure came from a HarvardMedicalSchool study that would be published in The American Journal of Medicine.

But CNN also included criticism of the figure including Peter Cunningham, Ph.D., who said “I’m not sure that is correct to say that medical problems were the direct cause of all these bankruptcies.” Cunningham is a senior fellow at the Center for Studying Health System Change.

Aparna Mathur, a research fellow for the American Enterprise Institute, pointed out an important fact of that Harvard study that was being overlooked. “The survey clearly states that only 29 percent of the respondents believed that their bankruptcy was actually caused by medical bills.”

The AnnenbergPublicPolicyCenter’s FactCheck.org also disputed a similar Harvard study from 2005 which found “about half” of bankruptcies medically related.

FactCheck pointed out that the figure misleads because it “includes those who lost their jobs or significant income due to illness – even if they didn’t cite mounting health care bills as a direct cause of their bankruptcy.” They also mentioned other studies that found that in many cases families “spent beyond their means, leaving them vulnerable to even minor disruptions.”