March 8th, 2010
11:12 AM ET

Are thousands losing health coverage?

In the Obama administration's push to finally get its health care proposals through Congress, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hit the Sunday talk shows to hammer home the costs of failure.

"I think we know what doing nothing looks like, and it looks pretty scary. Fifteen thousand people a day lose their insurance, and some of thosefolks are being actually priced out of the marketplace," Sebelius told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Fact Check: Are 15,000 people a day losing health insurance?
- Similar figures have been cited before by administration officials, including President Barack Obama himself. They appear to have been drawn from a February 2009 report by the liberal Center for American Progress, a supporter of Obama's drive to overhaul the U.S. health-care system.

- At that time, the unemployment rate had grown from 7.4 percent in December 2008 to 8.2 percent in February 2009. That meant more than 1.1 million workers joined the jobless rolls. Using a model developed by another liberal-leaning think-tank, the Urban Institute, the center calculated that about 900,000 of those people lost their health coverage. Put another way, that's about 14,000 per day.

- But since then, the U.S. unemployment rate climbed as high as 10.1 percent before falling to the current figure of 9.7 percent. The federal jobs report that came out Friday found that the economy shed 36,000 jobs in February. That's still a loss, but a far cry from the hundreds of thousands a month reported during the worst of the recession.

- In addition, the administration's economic stimulus bill tried to keep laid-off workers covered by subsidizing insurance payments under the COBRA program, which allows the unemployed to stay on their company's health plan by paying the company's full share. A December report by the nonprofit
Commonwealth Fund found that roughly twice as many laid-off workers were enrolling in COBRA than before the subsidies were passed.

Bottom line:

The figure Sebelius cited was based on the rapid growth of unemployment at the depths of the recent recession and is most likely out of date. In addition, the administration's own efforts may have helped cut into the numbers of newly uninsured.

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