US health care not in crisis

December, 17, 2007

by Roz Kohls

“A little creative lying can draw attention, indignation, and perhaps most important, the money and political capital to address the actual problem,” said Economist Steven D. Levitt.

The “actual problem” is health care. Is it a crisis, though? Many politicians are claiming it is, and because 2008 is an election year, they claim they are the ones who have the solution for the crisis. They want a single-payer socialist government health plan like Canada’s.

Politicians are claiming health care is in crisis because they compare US health care to health care in other modern countries. Second, there are 47 million people without health insurance, so they must be going without health care, some politicians say. Third, we spend more on heath care than any other nation, but do not get the value of what we spend, according to Dave Racer, co-author of two books, “Your Health Matters,” and “Facts: Not Fiction.”

Racer said all three of those reasons for claiming US health care is in crisis are misleading. Take the first, comparing the US to other countries. US health care serves the most diverse racial population of any country in the world. Black women are prone to have underweight babies, for example. Sweden, on the other hand, is nearly all one race, so its infant mortality rate is lower, Racer said.

The Japanese also are nearly all one race. Their average life span is much longer than for Caucasians and blacks. US diversity makes a big difference in statistics.

“Not every country defines ‘live birth’ as strictly as we do. Here, it means any sign of life in the umbilical cord, any brain activity, or any muscle movement. If the baby shows any of these signs of life, and then it dies, it counts against our infant mortality statistics,” Racer said.

The second claim to a crisis, that there are 47 million without health care, is false, too. The true number of chronically-uninsured Americans is about 4 percent, not 15 percent. Of those, 75 percent are uninsured for less than a year. The largest group of uninsured is temporary/seasonal workers, mostly of Latino origin, who are born in a foreign country.

Finally, the third reason given that the US is in a health care crisis is the amount we spend.

“We do spend more than any other country in the world on health care. We also spend more than any other country in the world on houses, cars, food, TVs, telephones, designer clothes, and a whole host of consumer products . . . and after we spend on necessities, we have more left over to spend on health than any other country,” Racer said.

A mandatory state or federal program isn’t necessarily going to be efficient, either. In Minnesota in 2003, 17 percent of auto owners were uninsured, even though it is mandatory, but only 7 percent of Minnesotans were without voluntary health insurance.

Racer has two sensible solutions for the problem, not crisis. First, we have to live healthier lifestyles. Second, we must stop over-using health services because we have no clue what they cost, and feel entitled to have someone else pay for them.

I’ll add a third. Remember that 2008 is an election year. What you hear about a health care crisis might not be true.