[Vision2020] "Death" Panels and Four Other Health Care Myths

nickgier at roadrunner.com nickgier at roadrunner.com
Thu Dec 23 14:06:42 PST 2010

Dear Visionaries:

Here is my radio commentary/column for this week.  The full version is attached as a PDF file.  My previous column on health care can be read at www.home.roadrunner.com/~nickgier/health.htm

Some of you may have seen my Christmas column for the Daily News: "Pontius the Pilot and the Flight to Egypt," but those who didn't it is at www.home.roadrunner.com/~nickgier/EgyptFlight.htm

Happy Holidays to all on the Viz.



Myth #1. The Affordable Care Act is a government takeover.  The people at Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact, who have criticized both Democrats and Republicans for their errors, have declared this claim “2010 Lie of the Year.” 
Compared to government-run Medicare and Medicaid (the largest system of socialized medicine in the world), HR 3590 would actually expand private insurance among Americans. A great majority will still receive coverage from private companies through their employers.

The government would increase regulation in some areas, but a great majority of Americans support these measures. Three out of four of those polled by Bloomberg Business News want Uncle Sam to force insurers to cover pre-existing conditions, and two in three say that they must allow young people to stay on their parents’ policy longer. 

Forty-seven percent of these same people, however, said that HR 3590 should be repealed, proving that most Americans do not know the specifics of the bill. Over 50 percent of people in an Associated Press poll thought that the bill would raise their taxes, but as the AP writer quips: “That would be true only if most people were devoted to indoor tanning, which got hit with a sales tax.”

Myth #2. President Obama would set up “death panels.” Although an Associated Press poll found that 25 percent believe it, this was Politifact’s “2009 Lie of the Year.” The source of this whopper was Sarah Palin, who warned that “my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's death panel so his bureaucrats can decide whether they are worthy of health care.”

Politifact’s Truth-O-Meter went way over to “Pants on Fire” for this one.  Here is their correction: “The truth is that the health bill allows Medicare, for the first time, to pay for doctor appointments for patients to discuss living wills and other end-of-life issues. These types of appointments are optional, and AARP supports the measure.”

Myth #3.  Compulsory health care is un-American. Americans accept all sorts of laws that force compliance for a number of good reasons.  All states demand that cars have liability insurance, most states require motorcyclists to wear helmets, and they fine people who do not wear seatbelts.  

The argument for mandatory health insurance is based on the principle of shared risk: the more people who are covered the less cost. If American health insurance companies can no longer cherry-pick their customers, this is the only way that they can still stay in business and hopefully reduce their premiums. 

Myth #4: The U.S. has the best health care in the world.  This is true only if one picks, as many conservatives have done, the few statistics that look good.  In addition to treating diabetes and hypertension very well, the U.S. is tops at detecting and curing cancer. 

More than twice as many Americans, however, die of asthma than other people in the industrialized world, where the U.S. ranked 20th out of 25 nations.  Most experts believe that the best criterion to use to rate health care performance is preventable deaths for those under 75, and here the U.S. placed last among 19 nations (The Economist 8/20/09). 

Since 1980 Germany’s health care costs have tripled while the America’s have sextupled. Even though many new drugs are developed in the U.S., Americans still spend 35-55 percent more for their pills.

Myth #5. The GOP has a better plan. Jonathan Chait sums up the stark difference between the two parties: “Democrats propose to shift resources from the rich and the healthy to the poor and the sick.  Republicans want to do just the opposite.” (The New Republic 3-25-10) Chait quotes the Congressional Budget Office’s conclusion: “The GOP plan would reduce premiums for healthy people, bringing more of them into the insurance pool, and raise premiums for sicker people, driving them out.”

Politifact traced the origin of the GOP’s “government takeover” campaign to pollster and Fox News commentator Frank Luntz.  In his famous 2009 memo on health care strategy, Luntz recommended that "the arguments against the Democrats' healthcare plan must center around politicians, bureaucrats and Washington not the free market, tax incentives or competition." While the Democrats tried to explain the details of a very complex bill, the Republicans chose to scare the public with threats of a government takeover

For two years running Luntz and Palin have been the sources of the best press lies in the country. As we discovered from the 2008 presidential campaign, Palin resists instruction from GOP advisers, one of whom realized that she did not know why the two Koreas were divided. She would rather just let thoughts drop directly to her tongue without the intervention of normal cognitive processes.

Nick Gier taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years.  

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