the email…

A little over a week ago I received a forwarded email, the content of which I found atrocious enough to warrant a written response.  The email addressed two issues:  health care — specifically, how amazing America’s system is; and President Obama’s cabinet — specifically, how few members of it held jobs in the private sector.

The section of the email pertaining to health care had this to say:

INTERESTING STATISTICS ABOUT HEALTH CARE

A recent “Investor’s Business Daily” article provided very interesting statistics from a survey by the

United Nations International Health Organization.

Percentage of men and women who survived a cancer five years after diagnosis:

U.S.              65%

England        46%

Canada         42%

Percentage of patients diagnosed with diabetes who received treatment within six months:

U.S.             93%

England       15%

Canada         43%

Percentage of seniors needing hip replacement who received it within six months:

U.S.             90%

England       15%

Canada         43%

Percentage referred to a medical specialist who see one within one month:

U.S.             77%

England       40%

Canada         43%

Number of MRI scanners (a prime diagnostic tool) per million people:

U.S.             71

England       14

Canada         18

Percentage of seniors (65+), with low income, who say they are in “excellent health”:

U.S.             12%

England        2%

Canada         6%

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want “Universal Healthcare” comparable to England or Canada .

The above is wrong on so many levels.

First, we’ll start with the fact that the text offers neither citations nor, at the very least, links to the article it’s referencing.  It assumes you will take the “facts” presented at face value – which would be a mistake.

Second, let’s take a look at some of these “facts”.

Investor’s Business Daily did indeed publish an article featuring statistics on health care – “How U.S. Health Care Really Stacks Up”.

This article does not, however, quote statistics from the UN International Health Organization.  Why?  Because such an organization doesn’t exist.  What does exist is the UN World Health Organization (WHO), which the IBD article does quote – but only to mention that the WHO ranked the U.S. health system as 37th in its 2000 World Health Report.

What the article also cites (and what is, presumably, the actual source of the email’s statistics) is a brief analysis published by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) – an organization that “develops and promotes alternatives to government regulation and control.”

The publication is “10 Surprising Facts about American Health Care” and, unlike the email it spawned, includes numerous, legitimate citations and makes a clearly presented and articulated argument.*

The ten facts, as published by the NCPA and reiterated by IBD, are these:

  • Americans have better survival rates than Europeans for common cancers
  • Americans have lower cancer mortality rates than Canadians
  • Americans have better access to treatment for chronic disease than patients in other developed countries
  • Americans have better access to preventive cancer screening than Canadians
  • Lower income Americans are in better health than comparable Canadians
  • Americans spend less time waiting for care than patients in Canada and the U.K.
  • People in countries with more government control of health care are highly dissatisfied and believe reform is needed
  • Americans are more satisfied with the care they receive than Canadians
  • Americans have much better access to important new technologies like medical imaging than patients in Canada or the U.K.
  • Americans are responsible for the vast majority of all health care innovations.

All of these items, in the context they are presented, are true.  But we should also note the conclusion to which the author of the paper (Scott Atlas, M.D. and professor at the Stanford University Medical Center) came:

Despite serious challenges, such as escalating costs and the uninsured, the U.S. health system compares favorably to those in other developed countries. (emphasis added)

The reason I quote his conclusion is to point out this – that the purpose of this short, but informative, paper is simply to say, “Yes, there are problems with our country’s health delivery, but let’s not criticize it beyond reason.”  It is not, in itself, a condemnation of the other countries’ systems; merely an informed defense of our own.  What it is also not is an argument against the health care reform legislation that was recently signed into law; but an insistence that as we debate what our system does wrong, we should also acknowledge what it does right.

Ultimately, then, what I received was an email containing (mis)information (very) loosely based on an article which itself refers to a policy paper that is actually pretty fair and reasonable.

What I find so objectionable about the whole affair is twofold:

 1.)   That while the source paper does provide substantial data allowing for a favorable assessement of the U.S. health care system, it ignores certain questions that would, rather starkly, reveal the weaknesses of our system.  For instance:  the number of emergency room visits that are a direct result of a lack in primary care coverage, as well as the cost of those visits to the insured public; the number of people who are unable to seek timely care due to cost; the percentage of catastrophic conditions that are a result of peoples’ inability to seek care; and the number of bankruptcies due to medical expenses.

 2.)   The resulting email manipulates all this information and concludes with an exhortation to resist “universal healthcare” comparable to the UK or Canada.  This manages to confuse the concept of universal healthcare (in which every citizen has some form of health coverage) with a single-payer system (in which, like the UK and Canada, the government is the sole holder and disburser of health coverage funds).  And, thankfully, the new health care reform law establishes nothing at all resembling the single-payer system that the UK and Canada have in place.  In fact, the notion of a single-payer system was never even on the table.  In deference to the conventional wisdom that ours is a center-right country, the most liberal  proposal considered was a “public option” – a federally administered insurance plan that would compete with private plans in the marketplace.  And even that didn’t make it into the final legislation.

I’m fine if people are opposed to parts – or even all – of the new health care law.  But I would prefer they base their opposition on actual facts.

* It should also be noted that, upon examination, the statistics listed in the email just barely come close to possibly resembling those in the actual NCPA paper.

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