Don’t be fooled by “statistics”

By John J. Foley, Jr.

In a recent issue of InCity Times, Congressman Jim McGovern and Jack Hoffman presented their cases for a radical overhaul of our health-care system. I do not deny that we need some reforms to the system. My main objection to both of their articles is the intellectual dishonesty running through their arguments.

I have long ago ceased to expect anything akin to objectivity or fairness from Mr Hoffman, but we have a right to hold a public official to higher standards. Both McGovern and Hoffman blamed our health-care system for the fact that thirty other countries enjoy longer life-expectancy than Americans. No proof whatsoever was offered to indicate that the system is responsible for the differences. Did the “statistic” cited by your authors include the forty to fifty thousand deaths caused by drunken drivers every year in this country? Did it take into account the thirty thousand homicides or the many suicides that happen here on a yearly basis? Did it compare our grossly unhealthful diet and consequentially high rates of obesity and diabetes with the habits prevalent in other countries? Did it factor in and compare the death-rates from smoking, drinking, drug-abuse, and other risky behaviours? Until we are furnished assurance that a “statistic” is honest, we have to question its relevance.

There are additional factors to explain our rather poor showing compared to other countries. Our climate, for the most part, is not notably healthy. Hundreds of people die from exposure to extremes of heat and cold that normally do not affect people in western Europe, Japan, New Zealand, etc. Americans, moreover, live rather stressful lives and work longer and harder than inhabitants of most other developed countries. One fairly recent study blamed that factor alone on differences in longevity and health between England and the US… Needless to say, none of these phenomena would respond to a change in our health care system.

Much of the “evidence” the congressman and the columnist use so selectively actually can be interpreted to cast our system in a favourable light. The 18.000 deaths that Hoffman attributes to inadequate coverage, while lamentable in their own right, are statistically insignificant when viewed as part of the total mortality figures. Properly insured people probably experience a similar rate due to medical mistakes while under state-of-the-art care. If the 75% of Canadians who approve of their system is a vindication of that system, what should an honest person conclude when polls show that over 70% of Americans approve of our system?

When we consider infant mortality figures, we also have to refrain from comparing apples and oranges. The American birth-rate is also higher that that in many developed countries, and a disproportionate number of these births occur in low-income households, often dysfunctional as well.

Instead of looking for scapegoats, it would be more fruitful to apportion responsibility where it belongs. If Americans treated their houses and cars as carelessly as they do their bodies there is good reason to believe that home and auto insurance would be similarly unaffordable to many people. In the Thirties and Forties we blamed the Fascists for our troubles. In the Fifties and Sixties it was the Communists. In the Seventies and Eighties it was the feminists. Now our attention is directed to “crooked executives.” It is exhilirating to look back and see the progress we have made.

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