Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman and former three-term mayor of New York City, has sunk at least $200 million on television advertising in his bid to become the Democratic nominee for president. That’s a staggering sum relative to his Democratic rivals as he lays out his argument for why he can beat President Trump in November.
A television ad that aired more than 42,000 times across the country during the first three weeks of January claims: "Mayor Bloomberg helped lower the number of uninsured by 40 percent, covering 700,000 more New Yorkers."
Since Bloomberg emphasizes his record on health care as a reason why voters should choose him, we wondered if he is right.
Bloomberg campaign spokesman Michael Frazier sent data to back up the claim, as well as documents showing what efforts the Bloomberg administration made to encourage people without health insurance to become insured.
Bloomberg, who was mayor from 2002 to 2013, said he helped lower the number of people without health insurance by 40 percent, covering 700,000 more New Yorkers.
His campaign cited a 2003 report from the United Hospital Fund, which used data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey in March 2002. The survey showed 1.8 million New York City residents under age 65 were uninsured in 2001. (Health policy researchers typically omit people age 65 and older from analyses of health insurance coverage, given federal programs such as Medicare available to this age group.)
In 2013, the American Community Survey, also produced by the Census Bureau, reported an estimated 1.105 million New York City residents under 65 were without health insurance, a reduction of 695,000, or 38.6 percent, between 2001 and 2013.
Health policy researchers we spoke with said that Bloomberg’s numbers are generally accurate, though they noted the Current Population Survey and American Community Survey are different data sources.
The data sets contain "slight differences," but "it is common in the field to use the two together across large gaps in time," said Catherine Arnst, director of public information for the United Hospital Fund, which produced the first study cited by Bloomberg.
Health policy researchers said the efforts to improve access to insurance extended beyond New York City.
Sherry Glied, a health economist who was assistant secretary for planning and evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said New York State expanded Medicaid to low-income people in October 2001, and further expansions followed that decade. In 2000, the state created a new subsidized private insurance program called Healthy NY, Glied said.
"The Bloomberg administration definitely ‘helped’ people enroll in those plans - setting up a special office to do so," Glied said.
Katherine Hempstead, who studies health data as a senior policy adviser with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said changes in state policy might have played a role in lowering the number of people without insurance during that time period.
The downward trend "may reflect the fact that the state of New York expanded Medicaid in 1999 with the passage of the Health Care Reform Act," Hempstead said.
To support its claim, the campaign cited the ways the Bloomberg administration helped get people covered. Among them: Bloomberg signed legislation that required the city health department provide pamphlets outlining public health insurance options in daycare centers and required the centers to make them available to parents and guardians. Through a grant from the New York State Health Foundation, New York City also set up a website in 2009 to educate people without insurance about their options. This included information on how to make health insurance more affordable and a tool to help individuals determine whether combining private and public insurance would bring down their costs. The city introduced an online pre-screening tool for health insurance eligibility in 2007, and it introduced online renewals of public insurance coverage in 2010.
The Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care initiative, passed in 2010 but did not substantially take effect until 2014. So, it probably did not affect the number of people who gained insurance before then, Hempstead said.
Bloomberg claimed that in New York City, he "helped" lower the number of uninsured by 40 percent, and that 700,000 people obtained health insurance during his administration.
His numbers are generally correct, and he is correct to say that he "helped." He isn’t taking full credit, and that is wise. State programs gave greater access to health insurance, while his administration worked to raise awareness about that access.
We rate Bloomberg’s statement True.
Email conversation, Michael Frazier, spokesman, Bloomberg 2020 campaign, Jan. 16, 2020.
YouTube, video, "He’s Done It, He’ll Do It," Bloomberg 2020 campaign ad, Jan. 16, 2020. Accessed Jan. 16, 2020.
Bloomberg News, "Michael Bloomberg Hits Quarter-Billion Mark in Campaign Spending," Jan. 22, 2020. Accessed Jan. 22, 2020.
FiveThirtyEight, "Tracking Every Presidential Candidate’s TV Ad Buys," Michael Bloomberg, as of Jan. 22, 2020. Accessed Jan. 22, 2020.
Email conversation, Katherine Hempstead, Ph.D., senior policy adviser, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Jan. 21, 2020.
Email conversation, Catherine Arnst, director, public information, United Hospital Fund, Jan. 17, 2020.
Email conversation, Sherry Glied, Ph.D., dean, New York University Wagner School of Public Service, Jan. 22, 2020.
United Hospital Fund, report, "Health Insurance Coverage in New York City, 2001," June 2003, via Wayback Machine. Accessed Jan. 17, 2020.
New York City Office of Citywide Health Insurance Access, report, "Connecting New York City’s Uninsured to Coverage: A Collaborative Approach to Reaching Residents Eligible for Public Health Insurance But Not Enrolled," May 2010. Accessed Jan. 22, 2020.
U.S. Census Bureau, table, American Community Survey 1-year estimates, Health Insurance Coverage Status by Sex and Age, New York City, New York, 2013. Accessed Jan. 22, 2020.
NYC.gov, news release, "Mayor Bloomberg Signs Legislation Requiring Distribution of Health Insurance Program Pamphlets at Day Care Centers," Feb. 19, 2008. Accessed Jan. 23, 2020.
New York State Health Foundation, grant outcomes report, "Increasing Access to Health Insurance Options: NYC Health Insurance Link," February 2011. Accessed Jan. 23, 2020.
NYC Family Independence Administration, policy bulletin, "Access NYC Public Benefits Screening Tool," Sept. 19, 2007. Accessed Jan. 23, 2020.
NYC.gov, report, "Best Practice: E-Data Sharing for Public Health Insurance Applications," Accessed Jan. 23, 2020.
NYC.gov, news release, "Mayor Bloomberg Unveils New York City Health Insurance Link, A New, Web-based Tool That Helps New Yorkers Find Healthcare Plans to Fit Their Needs and Budget," Sept. 21, 2009. Accessed Jan. 23, 2020.
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