Obama's False Statistical Start

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: President Obama is set to lead off his presentation on healthcare this afternoon with a startling statistic:

“The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds,” the president plans to say, according to prepared remarks released by the White House.

But even before those words cross his lips, the factoid is getting knocked down.

ABC News' Polling Director Gary Langer writes: “The problem: That claim, based on a 2001 survey, is simply unsupportable.”

“The figure comes from a 2005 Harvard University study saying that 54 percent of bankruptcies in 2001 were caused by health expenses. We reviewed it internally and knocked it down at the time; an academic reviewer did the same in 2006. Recalculating Harvard’s own data, he came up with a far lower figure -- 17 percent.”

Even if the Harvard report was perfect, the statement would still be wildly inflated.

FactCheck.org vetted the tidbit when it appeared in the president’s address to Congress last week, and found the following:

“Data from the U.S. Courts show about 934,000 personal bankruptcies in the 12-month period ending June 2008. There are about 32 million seconds in a year. So someone filed for bankruptcy roughly every 30 seconds last year. But even a very high estimate, like the Harvard study we looked at last year, would only attribute half of those personal bankruptcies to medical expenses. So that's one health-related bankruptcy every minute at most.”

For another guesstimate as to what the figure may actually be, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Health Tracking Poll found that 1 percent of Americans reported they had declared bankruptcy “in the past twelve months . . . because of medical bills.”

UPDATE: The president delivered the line as prepared as the healthcare forum got underway at the White House.

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