Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Armstrongs' Column on Socialized Medicine

On June 11, 2007, the Grand Junction Free Press published the following article by columnists Linn and Ari Armstrong:

Health socializers ignore benefits of liberty, harms of controls

Advocates of socialized, government-controlled medicine argue U.S. medicine is too expensive and unresponsive to patients and more-socialized medicine in other countries is better.

However, U.S. medicine is too expensive and unresponsive precisely because it is already mostly controlled by politicians and bureaucrats. Nevertheless, the U.S. system is better to the degree it remains free. There's a reason Canadians come to the United States for medical care, and not the other way around.

The socializers ignore the evidence and arguments in favor of restoring liberty in medicine. They seize upon any superficial, out-of-context "advantage" of more-socialized systems even as they ignore or downplay the systemic, life-threatening problems of government-controlled medicine.

A case in point is a May 15 study from the Commonwealth Fund. While the organization publishes some useful raw data, it favors socialized medicine and filters its findings accordingly.

The Commonwealth Fund's "overview" of its study stated, "Compared with five other nations -- Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom -- the U.S. health care system ranks last or next-to-last on five dimensions of a high performance health system: Quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives. The U.S. is the only country in the study without universal health insurance coverage."

Various Commonwealth Fund data contradict the group's political stance. In an October, 2000, paper, the Commonwealth Fund reveals that, compared with the other countries mentioned, the U.S. has the lowest mortality rate per incidence for prostate cancer, breast cancer, and AIDS. The United States has the best five-year survival rate for breast cancer. But the 2007 study omits such hard data.

In a 2005 article for the Cato Institute, John Goodman cites other evidence as well, writing, "Delays in Britain for colon cancer treatment are so long that 20 percent of the cases considered curable at time of diagnosis are incurable by the time of treatment. During one 12-month period in Ontario, Canada, 71 patients died waiting for coronary bypass surgery while 121 patients were removed from the list because they had become too sick to undergo surgery with a reasonable chance of survival."

The 2007 Commonwealth Fund study does admit: "In other countries, like the U.K and Canada, patients have little to no (direct) financial burden, but experience long wait times for ... specialized services." So, while patients don't pay directly for services with their money (but instead indirectly through taxes), they pay with their time and, in some cases, with their lives.

Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis, listed as the lead author of the study, told Reuters, "We focus primarily on measures that are sensitive to medical care making a difference — infant mortality and healthy lives at age 60." However, that is a completely inappropriate basis for comparison.

Last year, David Hogberg wrote an article for The National Center for Public Policy Research titled, "Don't Fall Prey to Propaganda: Life Expectancy and Infant Mortality are Unreliable Measures for Comparing the U.S. Health Care System to Others."

Lifestyle choices such as diet have a much greater influence on longevity and old-age health. In a second study also released in May, titled "Multinational Comparisons of Health Systems Data, 2006," the Commonwealth Fund showed the United States tops the list for obesity, which is linked to various diseases. While 30.6 percent of people in the United States are obese, according to the study, only 23 percent of people in the United Kingdom are obese, and the percent drops to 12.9 percent for Germany.

The same study shows that, while the United States suffers the most "years of life lost" from (lifestyle-related) circulatory diseases and diabetes, the U.K. leads in deaths from heart attacks. Why? According to a 2006 Commonwealth Fund study, the United States has nearly 1.7 times as many Magnetic Resonance Imaging units as the U.K. has per capita, more than twice as many Computer Tomography scanners, more than 30 times as many cardiac catheterization procedures, more than four times as many coronary angioplasty interventions, and more than three times as many coronary bypass procedures. Even though fewer British are obese, more die from heart attacks because of worse medical service.

With respect to infant mortality, Dr. Bernadine Healy pointed out last year in U.S. News & World Report, "It's shaky ground to compare U.S. infant mortality with reports from other countries. The United States counts all births as live if they show any sign of life, regardless of prematurity or size. This includes what many other countries report as stillbirths." So U.S. infant mortality figures are inflated precisely because of the heroic efforts of U.S. doctors to save the lives of more infants.

Advocates of government-controlled medicine twist the data to serve their political aims. Those seriously interested in what we can do to contain costs, improve quality, and increase liberty in medicine in the U.S. should turn to the resources provided by Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine at WeStandFirm.org and Brian T. Schwartz, Ph.D., at WhoOwnsYou.org.