by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
If you think Obamacare supporters unduly trashed the American health care system as they pushed for greater government involvement in the health care sector, you might appreciate the new book In Excellent Health from Dr. Scott W. Atlas, a physician and Hoover Institution fellow. Robert Mliburn reviews the book (despite the headline, that is the correct link) in the latest Barron’s.
Just how U.S. health care has gotten an unjustifiably low world rating makes for a grimly amusing excursion into the use and abuse of data. Take the two most commonly cited points of comparison: life expectancy and infant mortality. As the author reports, in October 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama declared that “29 other countries have a higher life expectancy and 38 other nations have lower infant mortality rates,” figures that later gave his “transformative health-care legislation a seemingly data-driven argument.”
Obama was citing a 2000 World Health Organization report that gave the U.S. system a low ranking. But many factors influence length of life that have nothing to do with the state of medical care. One study cited by Atlas, using data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, shows that the U.S.’ poor rank in “overall life expectancy” was partly attributable to such obvious culprits as murder, motor-vehicle accidents, and suicide. Once these and similar factors were accounted for, the U.S. advanced to No. 1 in life expectancy.
As for infant mortality, the abuse of those figures is tinged with dishonesty. It’s hard to know precisely where the U.S. ranks because the available data are not comparable. The U.S. maintains vigorous live birth recording procedures and follows the WHO’s definition of live birth: “expulsion from its mother… irrespective of duration…[which] breathes or shows any other evidence of life.” It is estimated that European countries have reported a false reduction of infant mortality rates by up to 17%, owing to inadequate recording procedures. One example: Switzerland decrees an infant must be at least 30 centimeters long to be considered living.
Atlas is hardly uncritical of the U.S. system. But his problem with Obamacare is that it “does not address the single issue of highest importance: cost.” Under Obamacare, “Americans will be forced to buy insurance they may not want or value; businesses will be fined unless they acquiesce to government dictates about the composition, structure, and breadth of health-insurance benefits; [and]…the plan calls for significant tax increases, including ones on the very sources of innovative medical technology [an excise tax on the devices] that have improved and prolonged the lives of Americans so dramatically over the past half-century.”
Obamacare fails to address the issue of most importance? Where have I heard that before?