Sunday, August 23, 2009

All You Need to Know About Health Care Lies

This commentary in the Washington Post about five health care myths, by T.R. Reid, is really, really good.

I doubt that it will suffice to penetrate the alarmingly thick carapace of ignorance that insulates many of the screamers in this debate over reform. When people can stand up and bluster, with a straight face, "Keep the government out of my Medicare," you know that we're facing a serious knowledge deficit here. Nietzsche once derided democracy as "this mania for counting noses," and sometimes I wonder if he wasn't on to something. On the whole, we are not a very well-informed citizenry.

But back to health care. Here, concrete evidence we pay too much for too little:
On average, the Japanese go to the doctor 15 times a year, three times the U.S. rate. They have twice as many MRI scans and X-rays. Quality is high; life expectancy and recovery rates for major diseases are better than in the United States. And yet Japan spends about $3,400 per person annually on health care; the United States spends more than $7,000.
I know, the Japanese eat a lot of fish and aren't as porky as the average Nascar-loving, babyback-rib-munching American. Still, elsewhere Reid notes that administrative costs are huge in our system -- something like 20 cents out of every health care dollar spent. He contrasts that to 1.5 cents in Taiwan -- and when that tiny figure crept up to 2 cents, there were furious debates among the Taiwanese about wastefulness.

Another big difference between our health insurance and systems abroad is the profit motive. (Which, incidentally, is probably the reason for a lot of pushback on the Obama reforms -- health care in this country is a lucrative industry that wants to protect its revenue stream.) Apparently foreigners have figured out something that we haven't: health care is different from widget manufacturing, and shouldn't be thrown onto the altar of pure capitalism.
The key difference is that foreign health insurance plans exist only to pay people's medical bills, not to make a profit. The United States is the only developed country that lets insurance companies profit from basic health coverage.
Then the payoff conclusion that you won't see on Fox News anytime soon. Every year 700,000 Americans -- nearly a million, the size of a small U.S. city -- are shoved into bankruptcy because of medical bills. And what about other countries?
In France, the number of medical bankruptcies is zero. Britain: zero. Japan: zero. Germany: zero.

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