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Thousands of People Will Die if Republicans Refuse to Expand Medicaid

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Here's one crucial corollary to the finding that the Massachusetts health reform (i.e. Romneycare) probably reduced mortality: Refusing to expand Medicaid will probably increase mortality.

Jonathan Cohn cited experts Monday, who observed that you can ballpark the number of deaths the Affordable Care Act's coverage expansion will prevent each year at about 20,000. But on the other side of that coin, we can also ballpark the number of lives not saved as a result of states refusing to expand Medicaid. Cohn's sources think it's about 7,000 a year. That's basically consistent with a study published in Health Affairs, which put the number between 7,115 and 17,104.

Dan Diamond, a particularly thoughtful health policy writer, came to a more conservative conclusion—if all non-expansion states folded tomorrow, 5,700 fewer people would die preventably by 2018.

These numbers are particularly striking when you take into account how gleefully and vividly the law's opponents mocked the early enrollment figures last year.

Obamacare supporters are now pretty explicitly appropriating anti-ACA rhetoric and turning it back on Republicans. The picture of a packed baseball stadium atop health policy professor Harold Pollack's writeup of the study includes a supertitle that reads, "If Obamacare delivers insurance to 20 million working age Americans, it could save the lives of an estimated 24,000 people—the equivalent of a sold-out College World Series game at TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha—each year."

Cruz was trying to write off all the living beneficiaries of Obamacare by noting that they couldn't fill a large stadium. Seven thousand is also less than 108,713. But it's still a lot of lives. You couldn't fill a large stadium with that many dead people, but the visual would be the most striking of all.