Bernie Sanders exaggerates the number of Americans without health insurance

Senator Bernie Sanders explained why he’s likely to vote against an $858 billion defense spending bill, erroneously stating that there are “85 million Americans who don’t have health insurance.” The government estimates about 27 million.

The Vermont independent — who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and 2020 and hasn’t ruled out running in 2024 — made his remarks on CNN’s State of the Union. When asked if he would vote against the defense bill that the House of Representatives passed on Dec. 8, Sanders replied, “Yes, I think I will,” and then called for spending more on domestic needs.

Sanders, December 11: Look, we have — we have 85 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. We have 600,000 homeless people. We have a dysfunctional health care system, a dysfunctional childcare system, where working parents pay an average of $15,000 a year for childcare. We must start protecting the needs of working families.

Health insurance

The number of Americans without health insurance reported by Sanders is incorrect. As we wrote two months ago, 27.2 million people, or 8.3% of the US population, did not have health insurance at any time in 2021, according to the Census Bureau’s most recent annual report.

The National Health Interview Survey, which measures the number of uninsured at the time of the survey, also put the number of uninsured at 27.4 million in a new report released earlier this month.

NHIS, December 1: From January to June 2022, 27.4 million people of all ages (8.3%) were uninsured at the time of the interview. This was down from 2021, when 30.0 million people of all ages (9.2%) were uninsured.

Sanders was apparently wrong. “There’s 85 million uninsured or underinsured,” said Mike Casca, the senator’s spokesman, citing a September Commonwealth Fund report. Sanders has used this statistic before. In an October opinion piece for The Hill, Sanders wrote that “85 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured.”

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But that’s not right either.

The Commonwealth Fund study cited by Sanders’ office estimated that 43% of American adults ages 19 to 64 were “inadequately insured” at the time of the survey, conducted between March and July. According to the report, the biennial survey is “representative of approximately 196.7 million U.S. adults ages 19 to 64,” meaning approximately 84.6 million adults were “inadequately insured” at the time of the survey.

That’s where Sanders got his 85 million number. However, the 85 million includes 21.6 million who were insured at the time of the survey but had a coverage gap at some point in the 12 months prior to the survey date, the study found. That means 63 million were either uninsured or underinsured at the time of the survey — contrary to what Sanders said in his comment.

Sanders has long been making a version of this health insurance claim. It was one of his talking points during his unsuccessful run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

During three presidential debates in 2019, Sanders said 87 million Americans lack health insurance or are underinsured. But as we wrote at the time, the 87 million in the Commonwealth Fund report included 19.3 million who were insured but uninsured at some point in the previous year, the report said.

childcare costs and homelessness

The senator’s office didn’t give us a source for Sanders’ statement that “working parents spend an average of $15,000 a year on childcare.” If so, we’ll update this article.

The cost is high, but the national average may not be as high as Sanders said. Also, the amount depends on where you live.

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We couldn’t find an official government source for the national average annual cost of child care, but two federal departments cited reports from Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit that bills itself as “the nation’s leading voice on child care.”

In a report on the economics of childcare issued last year, the Treasury Department said the national average was $10,000 in 2017, citing a 2018 report by Child Care Aware. In a separate report on the rising childcare costs from 1995 to 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services cited a 2019 report by Child Care Aware.

Child Care Aware has since released a new report that puts the national average at “around $10,600” in 2021, but warns that the amount “varies dramatically from state to state.” In an appendix to its 2021 report, Child Care Aware estimated that the annual cost of full-time, center-based infant care ranged from $7,280 in Mississippi to $25,523 in Washington, DC

Finally, there is support for Sanders’ statement that there are “600,000 people who are homeless” in the United States.

In a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Analysis published in June, three University of Chicago researchers put the number of homeless people at between 500,000 and 600,000. According to that report, “Our analysis suggests that on any given night in the United States, homelessness affects between 500,000 and 600,000 people, with about one-third sleeping on the streets and two-thirds sleeping in shelters.”

Separately, in February, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released its annual Homeless Assessment Report for 2021, which stated, “More than 326,000 people experienced homelessness in a sheltered environment in the United States on a single night in 2021.” But that number doesn’t include the vulnerable homeless. The report said HUD was “only able to provide national estimates of sheltered homelessness” because data on the vulnerable homeless population was incomplete.

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