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Health Care - The New WMD?

Earlier this week, President Obama introduced his new nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius, and also asked Congress to appropriate $634 billion for healthcare reforms that he will announce (or, as we have seen, secretly slip into massive spending bills that no one cares to read) in the upcoming months. President Obama was direct in his reasoning behind his new proposals:

As he nominated Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius as his new health secretary, Obama argued that relieving families and businesses of the soaring costs of healthcare payments was a key to solving the crisis.

He made latest bid to advance an ambitious political agenda on another miserable day for the economy, as stocks plunged to levels last seen in 1997 and insurer AIG needed a new government bailout -- worth 30 billion dollars.

"We cannot fail to act yet again," Obama said, vowing to make good on a campaign promise to offer "quality, affordable healthcare" to every American.

"Fixing what's wrong with our health care system is no longer just a moral imperative, but a fiscal imperative."

"The crushing cost of healthcare causes a bankruptcy in America every 30 seconds, and by the end of this year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes". (emphasis added)

Wow - health care costs are the upcoming decade's new 'weapon of mass destruction,' so to speak. Hang on, it's a good metaphor, because -- as with those pesky Iraqi WMD's -- it seems that financial devastation caused by health care costs is not nearly as significant as our Administration wishes to make it appear:

The figure comes from a 2005 Harvard University study saying that 54 percent of bankruptcies in 2001 were caused by health expenses. We reviewed it internally and knocked it down at the time; an academic reviewer did the same in 2006. Recalculating Harvard's own data, he came up with a far lower figure - 17 percent.

A more recent study by another group, approaching it another way, indicates that in 2007 about eight-tenths of one percent of Americans lived in families that filed for bankruptcy as a result of medical costs. That rings a little less loudly than "one every 30 seconds."

The extrapolation of Harvard's data to "a bankruptcy every 30 seconds," which Obama also mentioned in his address to a joint session of Congress last month, comes, per the White House, from a 2005 Washington Post op-ed by Prof. Elizabeth Warren, a co-author of the Harvard paper. Fact-check.org has noted that even using Harvard's numbers, it's more like a bankruptcy every minute; indeed if you add up all bankrputcies in a year you barely get one every 30 seconds. (I've e-mailed Warren for comment.) But more to the point is that the Harvard data are clearly inflated, or at best, mischaracterized.

Himmelstein tells me that the reason for the difference is a change in federal law that sharply reduced the number of bankruptcies. In 2005, the year he and Warren wrote their op-ed, there were just over 2 million bankruptcies. Data out just today say that in 2008 there were 1.1 million (up sharply, by the way, over 2007). So this error in the White House claim stems simply from the fact that it's using out-of-date information. The next question is whether the estimate of "medical bankruptcies" is reliable in the first place.

A good part of the problem is definitional. The Harvard report claims to measure the extent to which medical costs are "the cause" of bankruptcies. In reality its survey asked if these costs were "a reason" - potentially one of many - for such bankruptcies.

Beyond those who gave medical costs as "a reason," the Harvard researchers chose to add in any bankruptcy filers who had at least $1,000 in unreimbursed medical expenses in the previous two years. Given deductibles and copays, that's a heck of a lot of people.

Moreover, Harvard's definition of "medical" expenses includes situations that aren't necessarily medical in common parlance, e.g., a gambling problem, or the death of a family member. If your main wage-earning spouse gets hit by a bus and dies, and you have to file, that's included as a "medical bankruptcy."

When I asked the lead author, Dr. David Himmelstein, about his definitions of medical bankruptcy back in 2005, he said, "It's a judgment call," and added that any death, for example, "to our mind is a medical event." (emphasis added)

I'm not denying that America has a problem providing the same quality of health care to all its citizens and residents. But if the chattering class wants to naval-gaze and perpetually blame the Bush Administration for "lying us into war" using "fixed" intelligence, shouldn't they also be questioning the motives of an Administration that really is using "fixed" statistics to lead us straight into a big-government bureaucratic nightmare that will be far more costly and stifling to individual freedom than our military involvement in Iraq?


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Comments (23)

Once again we confuse 'heal... (Below threshold)
jvc:

Once again we confuse 'health care' with 'health insurance'. We have the finest health care system in the world, bar none. The problem is that too many people want access to it for free. People confuse the purpose of health insurance, which is to protect from catastrophic costs, and feel that it should pay for every access to health care. Sadly, it is the government and employer subsidizing of health insurance costs, and the demands for unlimited, no cost access, that are driving up costs.

If your main wage-earnin... (Below threshold)
_Mike_:

If your main wage-earning spouse gets hit by a bus and dies, and you have to file, that's included as a "medical bankruptcy."

Great. I can't wait to see how the Obama plan is going to cure death.

We do offer excellent healt... (Below threshold)
kevino:

We do offer excellent health care in this country. In my experience, from small cities to a very large city, even those that don't have health insurance get better health care than I've seen provided by European and UK government programs.

But good health care is expensive. So, obviously, the solution is to get the State involved, because that will drive the expenses through the roof. And when it becomes a crisis, the State will implement the solution to rising costs: they will make health care worse. Mediocre or bad health care is cheap.

Mike:I don't think... (Below threshold)
kevino:

Mike:

I don't think President Obama wants to cure death. He wants to avoid a fiscal crisis caused by huge numbers of people retiring without adequate funding. Social Security will go broke, State worker retirement funds are grossly underfunded, and the Obama Bear Market has destroyed half or more of most people's retirement funds.

The solution is a WMD called "Socialized Medicine" to kill off the old and the sick as quickly as possible.

Wow...The messiah ... (Below threshold)
MunDane:

Wow...

The messiah lied and the angels cried.

Meanwhile, the media goes "Okey dokey" and the populace continues throwing tiny gherkins at his feet while he is dressed in Sun God robes.

The difference is you reall... (Below threshold)
Adrian Browne:

The difference is you really do exist and feel free to call in the inspectors if you don't believe Obama.

Heaven forbid that sickness and disease should turn into a mushroom cloud of better health, reduced stress, and mental well being.


All I can hear is Reagan:</... (Below threshold)

All I can hear is Reagan:

"The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

So, when I hear the government wants to help health care all I want to do it RUN!!


http://franklinslocke.blogspot.com/

"Great. I can't wait to see... (Below threshold)
JLawson:

"Great. I can't wait to see how the Obama plan is going to cure death."

Turn it into a social problem. How would you discourage it? Tax it at 95%, put the procedes into something that sounds good - like, um, 'anti-thanotic research'. Then have one or two highly touted programs, and quietly shovel the rest of the funding elsewhere.

Make it too expensive to die, and people won't!

This all started with Medic... (Below threshold)
epador:

This all started with Medicare, and its not going to end until we have a totally debased Health Care system. Unfortunately the masses are still so mindless, they will follow the lead lemmings off the cliff into the abyss of socialized medicine, economics and law.

Britain and Canada are in a... (Below threshold)
MPR:

Britain and Canada are in a panic.

Rep. Zach Wamp (Rep-Tenn): ... (Below threshold)
JC Hammer:

Rep. Zach Wamp (Rep-Tenn): "fast march to socialism, Listen, healthcare is a privilege," but this idiot doesn't mind having taxpayer insurance for himself. "Is healthcare a right?" The United Nations, including the United States, believes it is. Since it's not a right I think we should stop all taxpayer-funded health insurance for congress. Let those bozos pay to cover their own sorry Asses.

That's all fine until you end up with an epidemic due to some people not being able to afford medical treatment and it passes on to the rest of the population. In the end you end up paying far more to take care of affected people when they become a danger to the people or a massive death total erupts.

If your livelihood is provided by the taxpayer it is a right. If you are the taxpayer, tough titties. Sounds like a republican, all right. And as usual they will obstruct the vote, they piss & moan but you can't find one that comes up with a viable alternative. If healthcare isn't a right, why are prisons compelled to provide it? Do prisoners have greater rights than the rest of us?

JC:Public Health D... (Below threshold)
epador:

JC:

Public Health Departments, though woefully underfunded, provide immunizations across our country and territories already. They are a miniscule portion of the Healthcare budget.

While they and Community/Rural Health Centers that do provide affordable health care to millions of uninsured and underinsured are getting a big boost in the current pork-laden bills, they are a far cry from centralized government health care.

You are not thinking or writing clearly. Stop being a lemming. Look at all the aspects of the big picture, and look at the important parts of the system. It is driven by money, and when the money is not in the hands of the health care consumer, then the health care consumer has NO SAY in how the system treats them. The more government gets involved with these decisions, the more controlled and less independent the population becomes.

Think health care is expens... (Below threshold)
retired military:

Think health care is expensive now. Wait until 600+ catholic hospitals close their doors

http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/religion/story/E6E47067257DB95E862575710014DD57?OpenDocument

BTW this will also mean that praticing Catholic doctors and nurses will avoid the OB GYN field like the plague.


Obama lied
The DOW JONES DIED.

Have you noticed that Obama... (Below threshold)
TOhio:

Have you noticed that Obama managed to change the dialogue of the country from his outrageous budget to health care? He bounces from one major issue to another to keep everyone bouncing from one issue to another so that we don't see how fully destructive his plans are.

Catholics aren't the only o... (Below threshold)
epador:

Catholics aren't the only ones opposed to abortion.
Catholic Hospitals, from my experience, can be more mercenary towards the almighty dollar and power over private physicians than many for-profit institutions.
It will be interesting to watch the Merciless Sisters fight this one out with the Clueless One.
Pass the popcorn and beer, but I'll be rooting against FOCA.

If he forces Catholic hospi... (Below threshold)
mag:

If he forces Catholic hospitals to perform abortions and instead the hospitals close...how will people react? I don't think it will be pretty...might wake some people up. There was an article about this in our local newspaper this morning.

Obama's "solutions" for hea... (Below threshold)

Obama's "solutions" for health care are Marxist and will only make our problems worse. Quality will diminish, costs will rise, and the evil, putrid rich will go bankrupt trying to foot the bill. When Obama decimates the upper-middle class and drives the wealthiest Americans out of the country, who will pay for your gonorrhea treatments?
http://www.rightklik.net/

"Obama's "solutions" for... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

"Obama's "solutions" for health care are Marxist and will only make our problems worse"

You do realize that you can replace "health care" with any other issue and that statement would be equally as true?

jc hammer - "If your li... (Below threshold)
marc:

jc hammer - "If your livelihood is provided by the taxpayer it is a right."

Well then, considering Barack Hussein Obama is escorted around with numerous Secret Service agents and transported in 4-5 ton bullet-proof SUV's as a result of his "livelihood" where was my high-priced entourage when my livelihood was provided by the taxpayer for several years?

It was my RIGHT Damn it!!!

jc hammer - "If healthcare isn't a right, why are prisons compelled to provide it? Do prisoners have greater rights than the rest of us?"

No in fact they have no Rights, in fact in some states they have even forfeited their right to vote.

That said, is someone under lock and key in a Fed (or State) Pen able to access a doctor without it being provided?

Are you really that stupid, or is it just an act portrayed on the internet?

Liberals think everything i... (Below threshold)
mag:

Liberals think everything is a right (no responsiblities of course.)

NOTHING is a right if someone else has to foot the bill. Rights are God-given, not gov't given.
Some people are envious and lazy. And gov't is power and control hungry...what a match from hell.

jc hammer - "If healthcare ... (Below threshold)
retired military:

jc hammer - "If healthcare isn't a right, why are prisons compelled to provide it? Do prisoners have greater rights than the rest of us?"

Because we cant have cruel and unusual punishment. Something like not seeing a doctor could be considered cruel if they are not given an opportunity for medical attention and they are in pain.


jc hammer - "If your livelihood is provided by the taxpayer it is a right."

Really, so people in Congress cant be voted out of office? People holding office have their livlihood paid for by the taxpayers so are you saying they cant lose their jobs?


I'm probably the only regul... (Below threshold)
tyree:

I'm probably the only regular at Wizbang who's father was a doctor and still had to pay my own way through college. The reason? Malpractice insurance premiums. Any attempt to reform our medical delivery system that doesn't include Tort (lawsuit) reform is treating the symptom, not the disease.

People seem to get financia... (Below threshold)
katinpuyallup:

People seem to get financial systems - capitalism, socialism, etc. and political systems - democracy, monarchy, etc. mixed up. Any financial system can be mixed and matched with any political system. In fact I don't think I've ever actually seen the word 'capitalism' in either our Declaration of Independence or our Constitution. But, people seem way more eager to stand up and fight for our financial system than they are to stand up and fight for our constitution and the freedoms gauranteed to us in that document.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating socialism. Properly regulated, capitalism works out pretty well. Unregulated, you get people selling tainted peanuts to children or meat covered in fecies and urin from the slaughter house floor or ponzie scheems just to make an extra buck. I am advocating medical care for everyone.
I hear and read people declaring that the government will be in charge of deciding what kind of treatment someone would get if the government was making the decissions about medical care. Right now, if you have an illness, some insurance adjuster sitting in an office in New York or Omaha is making that decission for your Dr. and their number one priority is making that buck and paying their stock holders. They don't care about you, your Dr. or your condition, just what is the cheapest way of treating you that won't affect their bottom line. Best of all, is declaring your illness PREEXISTING then they don't have to cover you at all!
Now a days, most hospitals and clinics are for profits. They too are looking at their bottom lines not at you. Their only mission is paying dividends to their stock holders. What's cheapest is what you get. They don't weigh the pros and cons of the results of various treatments, they weigh the cost benifits of various treatments.
Every day, we - you, me, all of us, are bought, sold, used and abused and you don't even get it. You're so afraid someone else might get a little more than you - a bigger cookie than you got, you'd rather just crush all the cookies so that nobody gets anything. Just let the big boys keep it all.




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