Health Care Act

Fact-checkers agree: ACA likely prevented 50,000 deaths

President Obama during remarks marking the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.
President Obama during remarks marking the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. Getty Images

Tallying people who didn’t die is tricky business, so people asked questions when President Obama proclaimed, at the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, that his signature bill had prevented 50,000 deaths.

But fact-checkers from The Washington Post and Tampa Bay Times’ agree: That’s a reasonable claim.

It stems, they say, from a federal report on a program called Partnership for Patients, created by the ACA to get 3,700 hospitals and other health-care providers to reduce such potentially deadly ailments as pressure ulcers and adverse drug reactions. The study found 1.3 million fewer preventable hospital-acquired conditions from 2010-13 and used mortality rates to extrapolate that about 50,000 lives were saved.

That number “seemed rather extraordinary, even given the size of the United States,” the Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote. But he discovered that “the numbers might seem large, but the research seems solid, according to experts we consulted, and it is based on a review of an extensive database.”

The Post’s Fack Checker awards one to four Pinocchios for statements that range from shading of facts to outright whoppers. “The president’s claim appears worthy of the elusive Geppetto Checkmark,” Kessler concluded.

PolitiFact’s Louis Jacobson did a similar analysis, with similar results. Both noted that the number is an estimate, not a firm count, and that preventable hospital deaths were declining before the ACA was approved.

“Independent experts ... added that it’s reasonable to credit the health care law’s Partnership for Patients program with accelerating the gains, even if the improvements were already under way at the time the law was passed,” Jacobson wrote. “The statement is accurate but needs clarification, so we rate it Mostly True.

That’s the second-best rating on the PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter, which goes from Pants on Fire to True.

Helms: 704-358-5033;

Twitter: @anndosshelms. This article is done in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.