no third solution

Blogging about liberty, anarchy, economics and politics

Health Care Statistics: Two Big Lies

September 10th, 2009

I posted my initial reaction to the no one should die because they can’t afford health care meme on Friday. Since then, 47% of search traffic to this blog was generated by some variant of the meme:

no one should die because they cannot afford health care and no one should go broke because they get sick. if you agree please post this as your status for the rest of the day.

I have to admit that the post was probably not my finest, it was hastily thrown together while I was waiting for the coffee to finish brewing before I ran off to work, but it was blogging as blogging’s meant to be, I suppose.

Prompted in part by a facebook discussion, but also by the tremendous amount of traffic that the post generated, I took some more time to think about the topic over the holiday weekend. The highlight was when I watched as a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat duked it out on my facebook page, eventually the Democrat suggested that,

Objective studies rank the current health care system [in the U.S.] at around 24th in the world on such “soft” stats as infant mortality and life expectancy.

If, of course, by “objective” you mean “spin”. Needless to say I was thrilled to reference Warren Miller’s analyses of what the numbers really mean.

On life expectancy, the oft-cited data has not been normalized. Translating this from statistical sampling language to plain English, this means that we need to control for differences in the populations being sampled (ok, I admit that wasn’t much of a “translation”).

As for the bogus infant mortality figures, Meyer notes that in the U.S., we try to save even extremely premature infants (many of whom die anyways) whereas in other countries, they are callously written off as “unsalvageable” and counted as stillborn. In English, this means that other countries intentionally under-report live births, which skews the survival rate.  I would like to point out now (as I didn’t at the time) that the bureaucracies in charge of determining that no infant born weighing less than 500g will be declared “unsalvageable” and counted as stillborn is a death panel.  Even though they are not euthanizing patients, the very act of setting rules for who is allowed to receive care necessarily relegates the others to die.

As you might’ve guessed, there was no further argument.

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no third solution

Blogging about liberty, anarchy, economics and politics