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By Meghan Ashford-Grooms April 5, 2010

Perry says uninsured number in Bay State "about the same" since health care reform

Criticizing the new federal health care law's requirement that most Americans have insurance starting in 2014, Texas Gov. Rick Perry argues in an April 2 column in the Austin American-Statesman that such broad mandates are "ineffective." The column also was published by the San Angelo Standard-Times.

As evidence, Perry turns the spotlight onto Massachusetts, which has required that adults have health coverage since July 2007. "The number of uninsured people in Massachusetts is about the same as it was when the mandates were passed in 2006," Perry wrote.

In a state held up as a shining example by health care reform advocates, that's quite an indictment. Is it true? While waiting last week for Perry's office to elaborate, we looked into how many people are insured in the Bay State.

In April 2006, Mitt Romney, then-governor of Massachusetts, signed into law a health care plan with the aim of helping that state reach nearly universal insurance coverage. The plan — similar in some respects to the new federal law — included an expansion of the state's Medicaid program, subsidized coverage for eligible residents and the creation of exchanges where individuals and small businesses could buy coverage.

The Massachusetts individual mandate applies to residents who are 18 or older and has penalties for not complying, although people whose incomes are at or below the federal poverty level are exempt. Dick Powers, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Health Connector, an agency that administers parts of the state's health care system, said children were not included in the mandate because virtually all of them already had insurance in 2006.

Now for the numbers: According to Powers, about 600,000 Massachusetts residents did not have insurance when the state's health care legislation was signed. Since then, he said, 408,000 people have obtained coverage.

The Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy estimates that in 2009, the share of people without insurance was down to 2.7 percent, the lowest uninsured rate in the nation. The division says that translates roughly into 171,000 people — a far cry from the 2006 "before" number of 600,000.

It's also a far cry from Perry's claim that the number of uninsured people in Massachusetts is relatively unchanged, a statement that Powers called "outrageous" and wrong.

"Someone saying that probably doesn’t believe Nolan Ryan ever pitched a no-hitter either," Powers said.

For another source, we turned to the U.S. Census Bureau, whose most recent data on the subject are from 2008. According to estimates based on the bureau's Current Population Survey, a sampling of about 100,000 households that has been done for more than 50 years, Massachusetts had about 657,000 uninsured residents in 2006. That roughly matches up with the state's estimate of 600,000.

By 2008, the number of uninsured in Massachusetts had dropped to about 350,000, according to the Census Bureau's CPS data.

Another Census Bureau measure puts that estimate even lower. Based on the American Community Survey, a more reliable source of state data than the CPS because the surveys are sent to more households, about 263,000 people in Massachusetts lacked health insurance in 2008. (That was the first year the ACS included a question about health insurance coverage.)

However you do the the Massachusetts math, the number of people without health insurance has dropped by at least 300,000 since 2006 — not the "about the same" that Perry airs in his column.

So where does this leave Perry's statement?

After we'd visited with officials elsewhere, a Perry aide told us by e-mail Monday that the governor's statement was "an error." Perry's office also sent us a new version of his Friday column that removes the Massachusetts claim while adding one that references Hawaii, which we're not reviewing in this article.

But Perry's original column has already been widely circulated on the Internet, making a correction problematic. Perry's retraction does not change the ridiculous nature of his Massachusetts claim.

We rate Perry's unamended statement — the one published in the Austin American-Statesman — as Pants on Fire.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Gov. Rick Perry, op-ed column, Austin American-Statesman, "Perry: Obama's health care plan is a disaster," April 2, 2010

E-mail, Matthew Thompson, senior writer/editor, Gov. Rick Perry's office, April 5, 2010

Interview, Dick Powers, spokesman, Massachusetts Health Connector, April 2, 2010

Massachusetts Health Connector, Health Reform Facts and Figures: March 2010, accessed April 2, 2010

Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, Health Care in Massachusetts: Key Indicators, Access to Health Care page, November 2009

San Angelo Standard-Times, "Gov. Rick Perry: Texas cannot afford disastrous health care plan," April 1, 2010

U.S. Census Bureau, Historical Health Insurance Tables, accessed April 2, 2010

U.S. Census Bureau, 2008 American Community Survey table, Health Insurance Coverage Status by Age, accessed April 2, 2010

Faith & Freedom Coalition, Gov. Perry: Obama's heath care plan is a disaster, accessed April 5, 2010, Obama's health care plan is a disaster, accessed April 5, 2020, If gov't healthcare is so great..., accessed April 5, 2010,SOCIALIZED MEDICINE DAILY DIGEST FOR 4/02/10, accessed April 5, 2010

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