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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

If You Take Out The People Who Die, Americans Live Forever

by dday

So John Ensign, the adulterous Senator from Nevada who had his parents pay off his mistress and her family in possible violation of campaign laws, put forward the following argument today to prove the awesomeness of the US health care system:

"Are you aware that if you take out gun accidents and auto accidents, that the United States actually is better than those other countries?" Ensign said. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) had been citing the health care systems of France, Germany, Japan and Canada as more effective, but with lower costs.

Conrad responded that one can bend statistics in all sorts of ways.

"But that doesn't have anything to do with health care. Auto accidents don't have anything to do with h--," Ensign said, cutting himself off. "I mean we're just a much more mobile society. ... We drive our cars a lot more, they do public transportation. So you have to compare health care system with health care system."

I'm sure that if you take out truffle and eclair accidents, France's health care outcomes skyrocket, too. But I'm wondering why this means anything, even if it were true, which it isn't. First of all, if Ensign wants to improve health care in America, he seems to be saying that the way to do that is to move away from a car-centered transportation system and engage in strict gun control. Somehow I doubt that was his intention, since he's never cast a vote in favor of more mass transit or bike lanes or gun control in his life, but there's no other way to characterize this argument.

So in order to properly figure out what in the hell Ensign was trying to prove with that comment, you have to recognize that he read it in some talking points somewhere. And the talking points trace back to - you guessed it - Betsy McCaughey.

Where did he come up with such an argument? TPMDC's Brian Beutler tracks down the source: Betsy McCaughey said as much when she appeared on the Daily Show last month. McCaughey is the former lieutenant governor of New York and the first person to push the idea that, under health care reform, the government would decide who gets care, who lives and who dies -- a precursor to the "death panel" articulated by Sarah Palin.

On the show, McCaughey said that, without violence and auto accidents, the U.S. would have the highest life expectancy in the world. It was an attempt to undermine an argument for reform, that the U.S. spends more money than any other country but still lags in life expectancy.

The Wall Street Journal explains that McCaughey got the idea from a 2006 report published by conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.

As that last link notes, the OECD rebuts this talking point, saying that the AEI report is "based in part on GDP. If you don’t factor in GDP, the U.S. ranks 17th in the world for life expectancy when the high U.S. rate of fatal injuries is ignored." In fact, even the report's writers walked away from this statement in future reports. It's a moot point anyway, it says nothing about the health care system itself, nor is it comfort to anyone who experiences a gunshot or a car accident in the US, that if their death gets factored out, then the system works.

So the real lesson here is that the entire GOP position on health care - or really, anything - is based on irrelevant misinformation, and when you're looking for such misinformation, all roads lead to Betsy McCaughey.