How About Some Healthy Information Instead?

In the squabbles over health care reform this summer (you’d be stretching things to call what’s going on a “debate”), many of the talking heads make the claim that the US has “the best health care system in the world”.

Others, mostly the ones who want to kill the current proposals (but have nothing to offer as an alternative), toss around words like “socialism” and make phrases like “Canadian-style” or “European-style” sound like a formula for instant death.

So, what’s the truth about how citizens of other countries receive medical care?  Do we have the best?  Do people in other countries either die standing in line to see a doctor or get substandard service?

I have no idea.  But if even half the information in the 5 Myths column from this morning’s Post is true then a good deal of the blather heard on the talking heads channels and printed in many publications (including parts of the same paper) is pure crap.

Foreign health-care systems are inefficient, bloated bureaucracies.

Much less so than here. It may seem to Americans that U.S.-style free enterprise — private-sector, for-profit health insurance — is naturally the most cost-effective way to pay for health care. But in fact, all the other payment systems are more efficient than ours.

U.S. health insurance companies have the highest administrative costs in the world; they spend roughly 20 cents of every dollar for nonmedical costs, such as paperwork, reviewing claims and marketing. France’s health insurance industry, in contrast, covers everybody and spends about 4 percent on administration. Canada’s universal insurance system, run by government bureaucrats, spends 6 percent on administration. In Taiwan, a leaner version of the Canadian model has administrative costs of 1.5 percent; one year, this figure ballooned to 2 percent, and the opposition parties savaged the government for wasting money.

The writer does not get into the issues surrounding how we would cover the costs for universal health care, other than to note that the US pays a whole lot more for what we have compared to most other countries.

He also doesn’t touch on the high cost of the American habit to file lawsuits at the drop of a hangnail, which is likely part of those high “nonmedical” costs and should also be addressed in any reform plan.

Still this is the kind of information that news organizations should be digging up, having real experts analyze, and presenting to their viewers/readers rather than staging the almost non-stop “my-opinion-is-just-as-valid-as-yours” arguments that fill far too much space in the media.

The picture is of Marcus Welby, MD, the 70’s TV ideal of the kindly family doctor.  Of course, if your problem was really serious you’d want to be treated by Dr. Kildare or Ben Casey. :-)

Teaching the Politicians

In his Class Struggle online column, Jay Mathews tries to point out Seven Ways Politicians are Dumb About Schools.

Here are my seven least favorite but most common and misleading things politicians say about schools:

1. A good way to measure the quality of schools in each state is by average SAT score.

Agreed. Average SAT scores is a very poor way to evaluate schools. So is using any other standardized test.

2. It is bad to have programs that encourage educators to teach to a test.

If that’s something politicians say, why do so many of them blindly support NCLB? Why does Mathews support it?

3. Schools would be better if they stopped promoting low-achieving students to the next grade.

Another blanket political statement that ignores the complexity of how people learn. As Mathews notes, ending “social promotion” and holding students back in a grade rarely works.

4. Lowering class size is always a good idea.

I don’t recall many politicians making this claim. They usually say it’s too expensive.

5. It is education policy and not specific school successes that matter.

This, however, is something almost all of them believe.

6. What schools need is more money.

They do when politicians pile on unfunded, unrealistic, and educationally unsound policies.

7. Electing new leaders will help fix our schools.

Not unless the new folks are willing to support some radical – and potentially unpopular – fundamental reforms of the educational system.