On Health Care: Talking Points Memo Is Out of Touch with Reality

I have to admit that I laughed out loud when I saw the title of a Talking Points Memo blog post, On Health Care: GOP is Out of Touch with Reality. Day in and day out, I’m flooded with emails, policy papers, Tweets, Facebook posts, new websites, text messages–all devoted to research and committed to stopping Congress’ plans to usher in a single-payer health care system in America. In fact, every day, everything I read suggests the opposite of the TPM post: that it is the Left that is out of touch. So yes, I laughed, but I was also interested in understand what it is the Left thinks that have on us that equips them with the energy to push intrusive programs and costly legislation upon us. I did some homework, and I think it is Talking Points Memo–and the vast majority of the Left–that is out of touch.

I’ve included the TPM post in its entirety in this post , appearing in italics, broken down by section, and refuted every step of the way with news and research conservatives need to know to refute these all too common arguments in favor of a government-run health care industry.

And, we’re off:

Last Sunday, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell was interviewed on “Fox News Sunday” and declared, “America has the finest health care system in the world.”

Only a politician who takes his talking points from big PhRMA or the insurance industry could make such a statement in these times. Whereas during the last big health care debate many tried to make this argument, most elected Republicans would be unwilling to go out on this limb today.

First, let me point two very important things out: We do have the finest health care system in the world, and exclaiming as much does not–in any way–mean that it cannot or should not be improved. No one thinks that. Sen. McConnell definitely doesn’t think that, as he’s taken to the Senate floor over and over again to say so; it’s convenient, however, for the Left to ignore the fact that Republicans in both the House and Senate are actively promoting alternative reforms. In the House, for example, Reps. Roy Blunt, Tom Price, John Shadegg and others in the Health Care Solutions Group have been leaders among their colleagues on the issue. Each of them believes that the American health care system is a good one–and wants it to be even better.

Any number of McConnell’s floor speeches can squash this idea that Republicans are against all kinds of reform. Take this one, from Wednesday, June 10th, for example (emphasis added):

“So the need for reform is not in question. The real question is what kind of reform — the kind that makes care more affordable and accessible; or the kind that makes existing problems worse.”

At the same time, McConnell and so many others are also completely justified in their defense of American health care. From that same June 10th speech:

“One thing most people like about health care in the U.S. is the quality of cancer care that’s available here. Far too many Americans die from cancer. Yet for all the problems we have, the fact is, America boasts some of the highest cancer survival rates in the world. And that’s not the kind of thing Americans want to see change. But it could very well change if the U.S. adopts a government-run health care system along the lines of the one some are proposing.

A recent study comparing U.S. cancer survival rates with other countries found that, on average, U.S. women have a 63% chance of living at least five years after a cancer diagnosis compared to a 54% rate for women in Britain. As for men, 66% of American males survive at least five years while 45% of British men do.”

McConnell provides more stats and evidence in that speech and in so many others, so I recommend reading through some of them over the long weekend.

Next, the PhRMA talking points accusation from TPM doesn’t make any sense. PhRMA is a major–if not the major–player of the health care industry that is cutting $80 billion dollar deals with the President and Democratic-led Congress, providing what The Politico called a “boost” to the Democrats’ health care reform efforts. I think that speaks for itself.

Let’s just examine some very simple facts:

WE PAY MORE: According to a recent CNN report, the U.S. spends vastly more per capita for health care than many other countries. For example, we spend about six times per capita what Singapore spends. We spend about three times what Israel spends ($6,000 per capita vs. $2,000 per capita) and about twice as much as France and Germany.

This is a great point. Why do we spend so much on health care? The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle (emphasis added):

1) We pay more for our medical services. But though the pharma industry is important, the real action is in wages. Our medical personnel cost vastly more than their counterparts abroad in almost every category.

2) We consume more services. Americans get shiny new facilities–my British colleagues once derisively commented that American hospitals are “like hotels”. American hospitals don’t have open wards for almost anyone. They staff at very high levels. Doctors conduct an inordinate amount of tests. We use an expensive machine rather than watchful waiting. And often, those expensive machines catch conditions that never would have turned into anything, which we then treat. Natasha Richardson probably would have lived if she’d had an accident here, because doctors would have done a cat scan, and there would have been a Medevac helicopter available. That’s tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars to save a single life.

Still not convinced? Remember that paying more isn’t necessarily indicative of a bad thing. McArdle again:

The mindless trend extrapolation about how much we’ll spend on health care in the future elides the point that we’ll be much richer in the future; why shouldn’t we spend all that extra income on healthcare? Your ancestors spent 2/3 of their daily income on food. Now you spend about 15-20%. But spending much more of your income on clothes and housing doesn’t mean that you’re starving; it means that you’re so rich, you only spend a small fraction of your income on food.

Next up from Talking Points Memo:

WE DIE YOUNGER: Yet, according to the same CNN source, despite spending so much our life expectancy rates are poor compared to these other nations. The citizens of the following countries (this is not a complete list since 49 nations have better life expectancy than the U.S.) have longer life expectancies than Americans:

Japan

Singapore

Australia

Canada

France

Switzerland

Israel

Italy

Spain

Austria

German

United Kingdom

Life expectancy has many different variables. That very same CNN article that TPM cites goes on to explain how innovation and economic growth are the real keys to improving life expectancy:

Frank Lichtenberg, professor of business at Columbia University, said it’s impossible to determine at this point what effect a single-payer system would have on life expectancy in the United States.

But medical innovation in general does benefit the rate at which life expectancy increases, he said.

His research has found U.S. states that adopt new drugs more rapidly, use more advanced imaging procedures, and have graduates from top medical schools, tend to have higher rates of life expectancy growth.

Also quoted in that article is Harvey Brenner, professor of public health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and Johns Hopkins University, who adds that economic growth is “the bedrock of life expectancy.” So, let’s see: We need innovation and economic growth to increase life expectancy, yet a government takeover of the health care industry will strangle innovation.

John Stossel is worth citing here, too. He defended private innovation in his weekly, syndicated column this week:

It’s true that America’s partly profit-driven, partly bureaucratic system is expensive, and sometimes wasteful, but the pursuit of profit reduces waste and costs and gives the world the improvements in medicine that ease pain and save lives.

“[America] is the country of medical innovation. This is where people come when they need treatment,” Dr. Gratzer says.

“Literally we’re surrounded by medical miracles. Death by cardiovascular disease has dropped by two-thirds in the last 50 years. You’ve got to pay a price for that type of advancement.”

Canada and England don’t pay the price because they freeload off American innovation. If America adopted their systems, we could worry less about paying for health care, but we’d get 2009-level care — forever. Government monopolies don’t innovate. Profit seekers do.

Let’s hear it for the profit seekers! Thanks to them, my week-old niece had her heart re-wired so that blood could flow in the correct direction. Thanks to them, my brother survived a childhood of severe, sometimes debilitating asthma. Thanks to them, my 87-year-old grandpa and 80-year-old grandma live very independent and happy lives. You get the idea.

OUR INFANTS DIE AT HIGHER RATES: According to a University of Maine paper published earlier this decade, American infants die at much higher rates than infants in 12 European countries and Japan. The U.S. ranked 26th overall among industrialized countries on this measure.

Well, that may be true. But according to, again, that same CNN article, babies in general and, in particular, high risk babies receive better care than they do under single-payer systems, like that of Scandinavia. (Emphasis is my own.)

While infant mortality rates in the 1980s and ’90s were higher in the United States than in some Scandinavian countries, low birth weight babies had better survival rates in America at the same time, he said.

“The simplest hypothesis for this paradox is that at any given birth weight, especially at the critical high risk low birth rates, American babies got better access to medical care than Scandinavian babies,” Eberstadt said.

Similarly, looking at five-year survival rates for cancer patients of any ethnicity, the U.S. generally beats European countries, he said.

Jim Hoft, the man behind the very popular blog Gateway Pundit, recently said it best in a column for American Issues Project: If the United States passes the Democrats’ suggested health care reform, where will Canada send its preemies?

We have a lot of babies in this country and I wish that more of them survived into adulthood. But the fact remains: the care is better.

Speaking of better care, TPM takes issue with that idea, too:

ON QUALITY, ACCESS, AND EFFICIENCY THE UNITED STATES RANKS NEAR THE BOTTOM: A study released in 2007 by the Commonwealth Fund ranked the United States against five other countries – Australia, Canada, Germany and New Zealand. On all but one measure the United States ranked 5th or 6th among the six nations.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If our health care advancements are the envy of the world and are hand-picked by international leaders for whom money is no object, we must be doing something right. It’s not just the wealthy politicians of the world who come here for treatment, by the way. I received an email from a reader earlier this month explaining how three of his family members from the Netherlands needed separate treatments available only through specialists in America. The government agreed to pay for the American procedures if the family would pay for their own travel expenses. This kind of partnership sounds nice, but demonstrates the fact that specialized care is often completely inaccessible under a single-payer system. Where will the Netherlands send their citizens for specialized care if we reform our system to resemble theirs?

And that’s just one example. Jim Hoft, in another American Issues Project column, recently addressed the fact that breast cancer and nationalized health care are a deadly mix.

The examples go on and on. John Stossel also addressed the idea that other nations with single-payer systems have “better” and “cheaper” care:

In England, health care is “free” — as long as you don’t mind waiting. People wait so long for dentist appointments that some pull their own teeth. At any one time, half a million people are waiting to get into a British hospital. A British paper reports that one hospital tried to save money by not changing bedsheets. Instead of washing sheets, the staff was encouraged to just turn them over.

If you haven’t already, read that entire Stossel column. It’s smart and succinct.

Talking Points Memo concluded their post with another stab at McConnell and the Republican party: “McConnell’s statement regarding our health care system is another indication that GOP leadership is not just out of touch with public opinion – it’s out of touch with reality.” It seems clear that just the opposite is true. A recent ABC News poll shows as much, finding that “fifty-eight percent don’t buy President Obama’s pledge that reform can occur without forcing people to make undesired changes in their current coverage” and “about eight in 10 are concerned that reform may reduce their quality, coverage and choice of care, and increase their costs, government bureaucracy and the federal deficit, with anywhere from 51 to 62 percent ‘very’ worried about each of these.” A majority of Americans–like Republicans–have serious concerns about the Democrats’ reforms.

The Right has its work cut out for them when it comes to blocking the Democrats’ aggressive, intrusive and costly reforms and promoting their own ideas for improvements, such as buying insurance across state lines, but it has never been more important for us to keep up our efforts. The Left is out of touch with reality and, if we win the health care debate this summer, we might be well on our way to kicking the Left out of majority control, too.

Cross-posted at Catherine Favazza.

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