It's a contentious question, but curiously, one that doesn't get debated nearly as fiercely as things like "how many uninsured people are there?" I find that surprising, because after all, we don't necessarily care whether people are marked by some survey as "insured" or "uninsured"; we care whether there is preventable suffering in the world.
But it turns out to be really hard to determine how many people die without insurance, which is the subject of this month's column. The most recent available study, which also had the largest sample and controlled for the most variables, found no effect at all--a result which surprised the hell out of its author, a former Clinton advisor. Other studies say the number is in the tens of thousands.
The left is predictably fond of the study which got the largest number, 45,000 a year. Unfortunately, its authors are political advocates for a single-payer system, who also helped author the notorious studies on medical bankruptcies. Those studies are very shoddily done, with parameters that somehow always conspire to produce the maximum possible number. In the first study, they set an absurdly low threshhold for what constituted a "medical bankruptcy". In the second, they chose 2006, the year after the 2005 bankruptcy reform act had driven an unprecedented spike in filings. It seems pretty likely that medical bankruptcies were bound to be overrepresented in 2006, since most financial events are easier to see coming than illnesses. But even if you disagree--and the authors offered an incredibly wan explanation of why they did--it's very clear that the people who filed in 2006 were not going to be a representative sample of bankruptcies in a normal year. I can't imagine why you would choose to study 2006 unless you were looking for biased results. I have to conclude that their political beliefs are affecting their work, which means I wouldn't touch that 45,000 number with a bargepole--I wouldn't cite anything they authored even if it offered to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was right about everything.