Monday, June 8, 2009

Debunking the Myths about Health Care in America

Americas' Health Care CrisisImage by prudencebrown121 via Flickr

Special Book Review

In “The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care. A Citizen's Guide,” Ms. Sally C. Pipes surgically exposes the misleading arguments of those who support government run national health care. In a time when Americans seem to believe in the competence of government to solve the health care “crisis,” she gives the reader ample reason to think again. There are many examples of how poor government solutions perform in reality as compared to theory and at what cost in both financial and human terms. Ms. Pipes acknowledges the main problems with the U.S. health care system being access and affordability. She clearly demonstrates why this exists and how to address it in a responsible, effective, and workable manner relying on free markets rather than the heavy hand of unresponsive and bureaucratic government central planning.

Each chapter exposes and debunks a commonly held myth about U.S. health care. Myth 1 starts by reviewing whether or not Government Health Care is More Efficient. The author clearly proves that the notion of the government being able to deliver efficient and high quality healthcare to the American public is nonsense. Ms. Pipes demonstrates that government’s administrative costs are passed on to the private sector, price controls lead to doctor shortages, waiting lists, and rationing of care as well as stifling innovation. U.S. government medicine (Medicare, Medicaid, the VA system) with its incomprehensible regulations and bureaucracy is rife with fraud and waste. In Myth 10, Government-Run Health Care Systems in Other Countries are Better and Cheaper than America’s, the author further illustrates the life-threatening limitations of health care systems in Britain, Canada and France compared to care in the United States. The author also explains how crude measures of health care quality like infant mortality and life expectancy are obtained by researchers and manipulated. She clearly points out that when reviewing how well a health care system serves sick people, which is the true quality metric, the United States excels. For example, Cancer patients have much higher survival rates in the United States than any other country and the U.S. also leads the world in research and innovation in pharmaceuticals and medical technology. In Britain, a government agency (National Institute for Health and Clinical Effectiveness – NICE), explicitly limits patients access to the latest and most effective drugs and technology by manipulating data with pseudoscientific cost effectiveness analysis. In the case of life threatening illnesses, “cutting costs, cuts lives.” In France, the government-run health care system is so stretched beyond their limit that a simple heat wave in August 2003 took the lives of 15,000 elderly patients because of a shortage of doctors and hospitals. In Canada, a dog can get a hip replacement “in under a week and in which a human can wait two to three years.” In a landmark decision overturning the ban of private health insurance in the Canadian province of Quebec, Chief Justice McLachlin stated, “access to a waiting list is not access to health care.” Calculating only health care costs without considering value provides meaningless data.

Other chapters are just as devastating to the proponents of socialized medicine. Myth 3: Forty-Six Million Americans Can’t Get Health Care points out popular “sound-bites” that have been especially misleading and misrepresented in the media. Of course, the misrepresentation of the actual data has also been politically useful. The truth is that only eight million (not 46 million) Americans are without health insurance for over one year, and all people residing in the U.S. have access to health care by law. It is against the law for an Emergency Room to refuse care to a person. The 46 million factoid includes non-U.S. citizens (more than 10 million), people with incomes greater than $50,000/yr (18 million, of those almost 10 million have incomes greater than $75,000/yr) who choose not to purchase health insurance, and 14 million low-income Americans who qualify for generous government assistance but do not enroll. The fastest-growing segment of the uninsured population is households making more than $75,000/yr. There are uninsured Americans, and we need to consider this fact, but the number is drastically less than cited by the media and politicians.

There are seven other myths that are explained in similar detail in the book: We’re Spending Too Much on Health Care, High Drug Prices Drive Up Health Care Costs, Importing Drugs Would Reduce Health Care Costs, Universal Coverage Can Be Achieved by Forcing Everyone to Buy Insurance, Government Prevention Programs Reduce Health Care Costs, We Need More Government to Insure Poor Americans, and Health Information Technology Is a Silver Bullet for Reducing Costs. The underlying problem in health care is government policies and regulations that interfere with the normal function of a free market. In fact, according to a report published in 2004, the medical industry spends over $340 Billion each year on government regulation. This is a huge amount that is not even being considered for cost reductions or efficiencies. A cost that simply shows up in the price of drugs and medical services passed on to the patient.

But this book is not only about the diagnosis of health care problems in the United States. It also offers solutions to these issues so that we can lower costs and achieve universal choice in health care and universal coverage. As you might expect, this requires much less government and a freer market. Ms. Pipes cites the example of a free market in health care, Lasik eye surgery. Costs have dropped about 40% over the years and quality has improved significantly. The free market reforms include changing the tax code to allow individuals to purchase health insurance with either refundable tax credits or allow income tax deductions for health care expenditures. Other reforms include reducing costly government mandates and regulations, allow the purchase of insurance across state lines, expand Health Savings Accounts, support retail health clinics, implement tort reform, and provide vouchers for the working poor and chronically uninsured.

This book is important in the health care debate. It exposes the factually incorrect and misleading arguments made by proponents of government-run health care and the devastation wrought by well-intentioned policies. Ms. Pipes gives the reader ammunition when confronting the seductive siren song of free, quality health care for all administered by the thoughtful, caring, and competent bureaucrats from the Department of Motor Vehicles. I highly recommend that you purchase this must-read book and read it’s eye opening conclusions.

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Lorne Marr said...

Sounds like an interesting book, thank you for the tip. I'm getting it right now, I hope it's worth it :)


Anonymous said...

It is ironic that if you google the author of this title you discover that either he, or someone with the same name was involved in litigation that is germane to this discussion. Succinctly, a victim of our perfect medical system had to fight her medical insurance company to get a recommended and -imho- necessary procedure.

While I have no doubts that there are a number of flaws in a more socialized medical institution, but to compare what might happen in a negative light, while ignoring what IS happening does not provide balance to this very important issue. In fact it does nothing but provide more talking points for those that oppose removing greed out of you personal care.

Finally, it is worth noting that none of these people provide any solutions to what is arguably the largest drain on income from our wallets. Much like our dependency on Oil, the conservatives want to pretend that nothing is wrong, and that "free market" will fix any and all problems. The problem with that sentiment is real people are being affected because you folks have no desire to actually DO anything.

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." -President Barack Obama

We have the votes, we are going to change how healthcare is provided in this country. Either step up to the plate and help us make the best possible choices or get rolled over along with the party of "No".

Rick Beagle

Anonymous said...

There are a number of serious errors in Ms. Pipe's book.

With respect to her claim that that people with incomes over $50,000 who don't have insurance simply choose not to purchase it, this claim ignores the two fundamental flaws with our health care system. First, insurance companies can and do deny health coverage to families with "pre-existing conditions" (as defined by the insurance companies) regardless of their incomes. (I know, because I'm one of them.) Second, even if one can get coverage, the average health insurance premium for a family of four is $12,700 per year, hardly affordable for a family makeing a $50,000 per year salary.

Second, her claim that that 40% or so of the uninsured are eligible for "generous government benefits" but just don't sign up is pathetic. If you read the sources she cites for this claim, you will find they don't come close to supporting it. Yet, people (like you) repeat it without doing any of your own investigation.

If you don't like universal health care, that's fine. But don't spread lies to make you point.

luci said...

Rick, I agree with everything you said, but quoting the president from the days of his campaign probably isn't going to persuade someone who was rooting for the other guy.

Anonymous said...


Go read this please, and you will understand that I meant zero disrespect to anyone or their vote.

Rick Beagle said...

A lot of effective data for myself!

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