Kristof’s Story: “Are We Going to Let John Die?”

As a loyal reader for many years, I sincerely believe that New York Times editorial writer Nicholas Kristof sincerely cares about people and is genuinely saddened when they don’t get the care they need.

Trouble is, he doesn’t understand the health care system, or why we have the problems we have, or what it would take to fix them. Name almost any health care problem you can think of and Kristof thinks President Obama and Democrats in Congress are really trying to solve it. (OK, some New Yorkers just don’t understand Washington any better than they understand health care.)

Here’s the latest from Kristof’s Sunday column:

  • John, an Oregon man, has to quit his job (and therefore loses his employer-based coverage) because he gets sick.
  • He cannot get health insurance on his own.
  • He is rejected by his wife’s employer’s plan because he has pre-existing conditions.
  • He is turned away from the emergency room because he has no insurance.
  • John’s wife quits her job to stay home and take care of him.
  • With no income, the couple now qualifies for Medicaid, but is unable to find doctors who will see him because the rates Medicaid pays doctors are so low.

The real story is below the fold.

  • Depending on the type of plan John’s previous employer had, Oregon insurers have to sell him an individual policy regardless of his health condition; or he is entitled to insurance through the state risk pool.
  • Under federal law, no employer — including his wife’s employer — can refuse to insure him because of a pre-existing condition.
  • Under federal law, hospital emergency rooms cannot turn him away because he lacks insurance.
  • This problem would never arise if private insurance were personal and portable.
  • A precondition for workable, portable insurance is making the tax subsidy for individually-owned insurance the same as the subsidy for group insurance — an idea favored by many Republicans, but resisted by many Democrats, for almost two decades.
  • Medicaid’s low payment rates would be less of a problem if people could use Medicaid funds to buy private insurance instead — another idea favored by many Republicans, but resisted by many Democrats, for almost two decades.
  • The Democrat health reform bills before Congress would put even more people in Medicaid — in some cases nearly doubling the enrollment, where they can have the same experiences John is having.
  • The most cherished idea on the left at the moment is a public plan that would pay fees that are 30% or more below market — thus subjecting an ever increasing number of people to the same experiences John is having.
  • Although Kristof repeats the canard that there are 45,000 people (just like John!) who die every year from lack of insurance, Linda Gorman and I have dealt with that ridiculous claim elsewhere.

Now here is the real irony. Putting aside all the factual errors in Kristof’s telling of the story, everything that happened to John could happen again under ObamaCare!

Under ObamaCare, John could get sick and have to quit his job. He would then be without his employer’s plan. He could find that private insurance is too expensive to afford. His wife could quit her job to take care of him and lose her employer insurance, too. They could then enroll in Medicaid — which will still be paying way below market. Only now, the problem of seeing a doctor will be far worse. The reason: 25 million more people will have insurance — many of them in plans paying rates way above Medicaid — with no more doctors to treat them than we have today!

Comments (10)

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  1. Larry C. says:

    Very good post. Kristof knows absolutely nothing about health care or about health economics.

  2. Ken says:

    I like the way you ended this discussion. Every problem Kristof writes about is still going to be there under Obama Care and the problems may actually be worse.

  3. D. George says:

    You are correct about Kristof’s lack of understanding but also he appears to be bending the facts a bit. While we don’t know enough about the case to say for sure, the gentleman’s diagnosis of a cavernous malformation does not necessarily portend a fatal outcome (as sensationally implied in the title) and many patients do not require specific treatment at all. Most of the problem issues the patient faces as alluded to in the article are either: 1) non problems as you illustrate in your post, or 2)medical issues inherent to the diagnosis which would not be affected by the current plans for “reform”. Does Kristof actually think this gentleman’s health concerns would be more effectively addressed in the U.K., or Canada?

  4. Joe S. says:

    D. George made a very good point. Not only will the real problems remain under Obama Care, they would be even worse if John lived in Canada or the UK.

  5. Neil H. says:

    Kristof’s column is the left’s answer to the right wing charge of “death panels.” In both case exaggeration and hyberole have supplanted a respect for reason and factual evidence.

  6. Stephen C. says:

    Kristof ought to stick to what he knows something about — like the Sudan.

  7. Larry C. says:

    Stephen, maybe you only think he knows something about the Sudan.

  8. Tom H. says:

    You would think the New York Times would be embarrassed over this. Maybe even publish a retraction. Or at least disown it.

  9. James Hamner says:

    What else can we expect from a Liberal Left Wing News Paper like the New York Times

  10. Linda Gorman says:

    The story around Kristof’s appalling column is worse than John makes out.

    Michelle Malkin called OHSU to check out John Brodniak’s claims. Just another in a long line of ObamaCare victims who weren’t–he had been a patient there for nearly three weeks.

    Brodniak qualified for Oregon Medicaid last August. (

    Michelle’s readers then took apart the rest of the story, including the claim that he couldn’t be added to his wife’s employer provided policy due to pre-existing conditions (something that has been illegal since 1996). []