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Friday, November 20, 2009

Two thoughts on health care

First, where do people get the notion that America has the best health care system?  I suspect that they really mean it's the best one they know.  And they should know better:
The United States ranks 31st in life expectancy (tied with Kuwait and Chile), according to the latest World Health Organization figures. We rank 37th in infant mortality (partly because of many premature births) and 34th in maternal mortality. A child in the United States is two-and-a-half times as likely to die by age 5 as in Singapore or Sweden, and an American woman is 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as a woman in Ireland.
As my friend RL notes, we have to be careful of cherry-picking our rankings.  But whether or not we're the best in a select group of industrial nations, we are definitely not number 1.

Then there's the hyperbole of health care opponents.  A selection:
Critics storm that health care reform is “a cruel hoax and a delusion.” Ads in 100 newspapers thunder that reform would mean “the beginning of socialized medicine.”

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page predicts that the legislation will lead to “deteriorating service.” Business groups warn that Washington bureaucrats will invade “the privacy of the examination room,” that we are on the road to rationed care and that patients will lose the “freedom to choose their own doctor.”
Oops, wrong debate.  As the Times' Kristof points out, these are statements from the Medicare debate in the 1960s.  They were wrong about Medicare and they're wrong about the current health care bill. 

Of course, they do illustrate a third point: hyperbole is not a new tactic in politics.  Something we should all keep in mind.

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