President Obama himself in his speech cited the "100,000 deaths a year" figure as if it's reliable and well established, as did yesterday's New York Times. And of course it's a figure eagerly spread by the Litigation Lobby. But as Zachary F. Meisel and Jesse M. Pines note in Slate, it's a really, really, really soft number:
...one of the biggest headlines of all was the 1999 Institute of Medicine report To Err Is Human, which announced that up to 98,000 preventable deaths occur each year in U.S. hospitals. Since then, health care improvement organizations such as Leapfrog Group have invested copious resources in reducing preventable errors. But a key issue has been overlooked in this movement: The original estimate -- the 98,000 deaths -- may have been way off. In fact, some of the researchers who conducted the original studies used in the IOM report re-evaluated their data in 2002 and reported that had they used a different calculation method, the number of estimated deaths would have been less than 10 percent of the original. Oops.