Two weeks ago, Russ Roberts hosted a podcast with Scott Atlas, Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and author of In Excellent Health. Atlas discusses the methodological and data inconsistencies contained in several widely heralded reports, then dismantles the impression that health care and services are more widely and readily available in other countries. He also touches upon a surprising difference in level of care for patients with and without health insurance:
Guest: there are studies in the literature--in fact numerous studies, study after study--that show in a variety of settings, whether it's heart disease, cancer, transplants, all kinds of things: people have better outcomes, better medical care, if you just take the people who are just as sick from each of those populations--private insurance, Medicaid, and no insurance whatsoever. Private insurance has far better outcomes than Medicaid. Even the same sickness of person. It has nothing to do with how sick somebody was when they started. And then, the even more alarming thing is it is very common in these studies--these are peer reviewed studies in the medical literature--that the people with Medicaid do worse than the patient with no insurance whatsoever.Later in the podcast, Atlas draws into question the true number of uninsured individuals within the US:
Guest: I do a lot of international traveling, I read the newspapers and speak to people outside the United States, and it is portrayed as scandalous that we have 50 million or so Americans with no health insurance. Which I mentioned is equated with no health care. As if they're synonymous. Russ: As if they are out on the streets if something happens. Guest: But I think here, this is a measure that really has to be scrutinized. And I did in my book. This so-called 50 million uninsured--because when you look who is this population, the raw data, the documents, the U.S. Census Bureau documents, and others, you find out that it's not really 50 million people. After you say: Well, okay, about 10-15 million people are not U.S. citizens in that group--and I'm not saying they shouldn't get health care, but I'm not sure you are going to reform the U.S. health system to get non-citizens insured. Russ: Correct. That's going to be a challenge. Although not that group, but there are others who are illegal who do get health insurance. Guest: Who do have health insurance. Right. And then you take a look at who answered the U.S. Census Bureau survey and said they didn't have health insurance, and it turns out--let's just say, I don't remember the exact number, but about another 10 million or so that said they didn't have insurance that actually were using insurance. And we know that because the Census Bureau people went and looked, looked up and found medical records; these people had insurance that they were using, and mainly Medicaid. Russ:They didn't consider that insurance. Guest: They probably when they answered the question, they thought the question meant: Do you have private insurance? But, be that as it may, this is in one of the Appendices of the U.S. Census Bureau documents, Appendix C-- Russ: Good to know--Guest: Is that they actually were aware--the U.S. Census Bureau were aware. But they didn't change the response to the question. And then there's another 13 million adults and children--of these 50 million people, 13 million who actually are already eligible for public insurance--Medicaid, a tiny bit Medicare, and the Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP or CHIP)--that simply did not sign the paperwork because they haven't accessed the system. So, they haven't used it. Common sense says you wouldn't want to redesign another system to make them eligible for that when they are already eligible for the current public health insurance system. So, you are left with a population of less than 5% of people in the United States who don't have insurance or who are not already eligible for current government insurance programs. I would not call that a crisis in the uninsured.Separate from this conversation, John C. Goodman at The Beacon recently wrote about Private-Sector Socialism: What the Right and Left Don’t Understand about Healthcare in Other Countries. In this post, one of several regarding the broad topic of health care, Goodman comments on the immense similarities between US and global health care systems:
The pluralism of US healthcare is important to keep in mind in thinking about health reform. Suppose you are dissatisfied with the way the healthcare system is working in your city or your locality, and you are curious about whether somewhere in the world people have found a better way of doing things. Odds are that you are going to find better answers somewhere within the United States than outside of it.
People on the left and right who are prone to stress the differences between US healthcare and the healthcare of other countries invariably ignore the 80 percent commonality and focus on the remaining 20 percent. On the left, the focus is usually on the ways we appear to be worse; on the right, the focus is usually on the ways we appear to be better. But even here the differences are narrowing, and I expect that trend will continue.There may be equally good reasons to be skeptical of the perspectives provided by Atlas and Goodman, but my intention is simply to offer a counter argument to the frequent claims that America’s health care system is a disgrace among advanced economies. In my opinion, the thoughts provided by Atlas and Goodman, at the very least, suggest taking a more critical look at the supposed successes and failures of health care systems worldwide. Failure to do so may encourage policy decisions that push current levels of care in the wrong direction. The current US health care system is certainly not great, but relatively it may be far better than many realize.