By Scott Hensley
Sometimes how journalists cover a story becomes part of the story.
Recently, NPR health editor Joe Neel, who sits just down the way from us, put together an email that went to member stations with some guidance on how best to characterize the number of uninsured in this country.
So in case you're interested, we figured we'd give you the full text to chew on. The bottom line: about 46 million in the country are uninsured , but about 16 million aren't citizens.
Here's Neel's email:
Questions have arisen lately as to what number we're using for the uninsured.
We are sticking with the 46 million number issued by the Census Bureau in September (for 2008). It's the number of people in the U.S. who lack insurance coverage at any point during the prior 12 months. It includes citizens, legal residents and undocumented immigrants.
The trick here is to avoid the construction "46 million Americans." Better to say "46 million uninsured in America," or "the nation's 46 million uninsured people," or any other formulation that does not label all 46 million as citizens.
Some confusion arises from the "30 million uninsured" President Obama used in his last speech to the nation. After the hue and cry over immigrants and health care, he was emphasizing that the proposals would not cover undocumented and illegal immigrants (ie, approx 10 million illegal immigrants and approx 6 million legal residents). You can certainly say there are "30 million uninsured Americans" as the context dictates.
But because the 16 million uninsured noncitizens have a substantial impact on health care costs and on how the individual mandate would work, among other items being debated, we believe that the 46 million number better represents of the scope of the uninsured problem in the U.S. when you're searching for a global description of the problem.
Just don't call 'em 46 million uninsured Americans.