Thursday, July 2, 2009

Harsanyi on Lying With Statistics

The June 26, 2009 Denver Post carried this column by David Harsanyi on the statistical falsehoods being used to allegedly justify "universal health care". Here is an excerpt:
How to lie with statistics — again

Did you know that around 300 million Americans went without food, water and shelter at some point last year?

I am a survivor.

...One of the most persistent examples of modern-day statisticulation is the sufficiently true claim that 46 million (it becomes 50 million when senators really get keyed up) Americans are without health insurance.

...It is true that the 46 million figure is based on unreliable Census Bureau data. But even the less unreliable Congressional Budget Office puts the number at around 31 million. And even that number, former CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin claims, is an "incomplete and potentially misleading picture of the uninsured population."

For one reason, the uninsured figure counts every American (and illegal immigrant) who has been uninsured for any time frame during a year, even if they happen to be between jobs or changing insurance plans or on family visit to Guatemala.

...Then, another portion of uninsured Americans already qualify for an existing government health insurance program — and government already controls 46 percent of spending on health care — for which they have not signed up.

The CBO estimates that as many as 15 percent of the chronically uninsured are already eligible for help. The Urban Institute (hardly advocates of free-market fundamentalism) found that 25 percent of the uninsured qualify for some program.

...Turns out that 8.4 million uninsured Americans are making $50,000 to $74,999 and 9.1 million more are making more than $75,000. Health insurance is just incompatible with their lifestyles, I guess.

There are obviously inconveniences — children and mortgages, for instance — that can quickly make $50,000 seem like a pittance. Then again, 27 percent of all adults in their 20s (many, I presume, without offspring) choose not to have health insurance. Many of them surely have the means to purchase insurance, but after meticulously considering the tradeoffs (imbibing or insuring?) say no thanks.
Read the whole thing.

Harsanyi correctly notes that this is not a primary argument to oppose nationalized health care. But it's still important to debunk bad statistics, especially when they are so frequently used to justify bad policy proposals.