Economist Larry Summers predicts 10,000 will die per year due to tax reform

Key Points
  • Some 10,000 Americans a year will die if the Republican tax reform bill is passed as written, economist Larry Summers said.
  • Summers, a top official in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, said the cause will be a repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate, which requires Americans not covered by their employers to purchase health care.
  • He debated the issue briefly on CNBC with Ken Langone, the NYC Langone Medical Center benefactor, who called the claims "emotional."
Larry Summers: Senate tax plan will cause thousands to die
Larry Summers: Senate tax plan will cause thousands to die

About 10,000 Americans will die every year from lack of health coverage if the tax reform bill goes through as proposed, Larry Summers, former Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton and White House economic advisor under Barack Obama, said Monday.

Citing studies on what happens to people who go from being insured to uninsured, Summers said the estimate is likely conservative.

"I think this bill is very dangerous," he said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" program. "When people lose health insurance, they're less likely to get preventive care, they're more likely to defer health care they need, and ultimately they're more likely to die."

Summers' comments focused on the individual mandate, a key component of the Obamacare universal health-care coverage plan enacted in 2010. The law requires Americans not covered by their employers to enroll in the government's plan.

One of the provisions in the Republican-sponsored tax reform plan the Senate passed last week removes the mandate. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that some 13 million Americans will opt out of Obamacare if given the chance.

Opponents of the individual mandate consider it an intrusion on personal freedom and an economic burden on healthy young people who are forced to buy insurance they don't want.

In an op-ed he penned for The Washington Post, Summers drew on studies from the Urban Institute and the Chan School of Public Health and used a more conservative estimate of 10 million dropping coverage. The studies estimated that one person in a range of 176 to 830 people die when they lose health coverage.

Pushing that up to 1 in 1,000, Summers said a rough estimate then is that 10,000 a year will perish.

"You have to look at the data of what the patterns are all across the country," he said. "I don't see how you can believe that if 10 million or 13 million, whatever exactly the number is, of people are going to lose health insurance, that's not going to have health consequences."

Summers debated the issue on air with Ken Langone, the Home Depot founder and benefactor of the NYU Langone Medical Center. Langone said he doubts that Summer's fears will come to fruition, citing quality of care and increased life expectancy.

"Frankly, this argument that people are going to die is a little bit more emotional than I think the issue calls for," Langone said.

Also, a National Institutes of Health Study from 2009, pre-Obamacare, found no relationship between the mortality risk of the insured and uninsured.

"It is not possible to draw firm causal inferences from the results of observational analyses, but there is little evidence to suggest that extending insurance coverage to all adults would have a large effect on the number of deaths in the United States," the study said.

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.

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