Healthy Skepticism

So, Saturday (May 6th) marked the third anniversary of Casual Asides. Faithful readers, I know you've been waiting breathlessly for the past month for me to update, and all I can tell you is that I've been working on a non-fiction book proposal instead of blogging. And don't worry, this week I'll break out that extra-long political analysis a month in the making that would ignite a firestorm of blogospheric criticism if only I posted more often and garnered a wider readership. In the meantime:

<b>Is There A Doctor In The House?</b>

While trolling the National Review's Corner the other day, I came across this little nugget (emphasis mine):
Harry Reid, earlier today, on taxpayer funding for stem-cell research that kills human embryos: "[W]e cannot deny 100 million Americans the hope of eventually finding a cure for a wide range of illnesses and conditions." <b>Who knew that one-third of Americans were sick?</b>
That's funny, because just last week there was a study which came out in the Journal of the American Medical Association which concluded that American white males aged 55-64 were in significantly worse health than their counterparts in Britain. Now, the study made a point of saying that only non-Latino whites were compared, "to ensure that health differences are not solely due to health issues in the black or Latino populations in the United States, the analysis is limited to non-Hispanic whites in both countries." (Let's not forget that blacks and Latinos comprise just over a quarter of the U.S. population, for those running the stats in your head.)

The study found "that those in the top education and income level in the U.S. had similar rates of diabetes and heart disease as those in the bottom education and income level in England." You can imagine the implications for the country as a whole, especially considering that one-third of Americans (there's that magic number again) are uninsured and therefore have limited access to preventative medicine. By the way, the study quoted the following comparative rates of sickness:
USA – 12.5%
UK – 6.1%

High Blood Pressure
USA – 42.4%
UK – 33.8%

Heart Disease
USA – 15.1%
UK – 9.6%

USA – 9.5%
UK – 5.5%

Lung Disease
USA – 8.1%
UK – 6.3%

USA – 3.8%
UK – 2.3%

Heart Attack
USA – 5.5%
UK – 4%
The study looked at the health of 6,400 Americans and 9,300 British people aged 40-70.
Now, I don't have the datasheets for the study, but my quick not-quite-statistical analysis consisted of adding some percentages: the non-heart disease numbers yield an upper limit of 33.9% incidence of stroke, lung disease, cancer or diabetes. Up to 57.5% of those surveyed might have one heart disease and/or high blood pressure (I assume that if you have a heart attack you also had one of the other two already). Now, diseases are more likely the older you get, but the group surveyed has the best access to healthcare of any group and as the study morbidly points out, minorities have much worse health on average than whites (hmm, I wonder why).

But why just bother with JAMA when you can just go straight to the source: the Center for Disease Control? Why, their Report on Health in the United States is a free download in pdf format and since the CIA insists that 99% of Americans are literate, you could easily peruse the charts with pretty colors therein showing that large numbers of Americans suffer from kinds of illnesses; not to mention that 30% of American adults are obese, and 6% of adults 18-44 as well as 21% of adults 44-64 self-report that chronic illness limits their day-to-day functionality.

Recently, Congress heard testimony from medical experts to the effect that
More than 45 percent of adults struggle with a chronic health condition that affects their daily activities. From diabetes to asthma, heart disease, depression, obesity, and AIDS, more and more Americans are living with chronic illnesses. More than 90 million Americans live with one or more chronic illness; at least 22 million live with three chronic illnesses.

So, Ramesh Ponnuru, it looks like only those who truly give a shit about the health of Americans figured that a third of them are probably sick right now. But getting back to baby-killing (oops, I meant embryo-killing) stem cell researchers, Reid may be overstating the case with regards to their effectiveness. The JAMA study is careful to note that the fact that Briatin has universal health coverage and America doesn't isn't the sole factor in the difference between populations; it has much to do with lifestyle factors as well.

Health insurance cannot be the central reason for the better health outcomes in England because the top socio-economic status tier of the U.S. population have close to universal access but their health outcomes are often worse than those of their English counterparts.

I suppose this means that unless stem-cell research finds the cures for America's aversion to public transit or addiction to high-fructose corn syrup as a food additive, we should just be throwing those embryos away instead of using them for medical research, the way Jesus would have wanted us to. Of course, Harry Reid might have been talking about 100 million americans who could be stricken with preventable diseases in the next ten or twenty years, but hey, The Corner is on a roll and ought not be bothered with, you know, thinking things through before writing them down. (It's only a blog, after all.)

On the other hand, the study may be interpreted as saying that America's real problem is clearly that we spend too much on healthcare–twice as much per capita as the British, who are much healthier than we are.

You see, that's the argument advanced by Allan Hubbard, President Bush's free-market evangelist-cum-economic advisor, in a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece. The piece begins:

IN the past five years, private health insurance premiums have risen 73 percent. Some businesses have responded by dropping healthcare coverage, leaving employees uninsured. Other employers pass the costs on to workers, both by raising co-payments and premiums and by denying workers the wage increases they need to afford these higher prices.

What is driving this unsustainable run-up in health insurance costs, and how can we make things better?

Health care is expensive because the vast majority of Americans consume it as if it were free.
I suppose this means the insured, because being uninsured actually is free, and the Health Savings Accounts Hubbard ends up pushing in the op-ed show the consumers the true value of their health care by removing the already fucked-up health care system we have and replacing it with a suggestion to deposit a certain amount of their declining real wages in a separate savings account so they can buy doctor's visits retail.

Leave it to the Bush administration to suggest burning the village in order to save it. Speaking of our current system, I think it is quite clear to every American that HMOs are a classic swindle. How classic? Would you believe <B>Nixon tapes classic</b>?


John D. Ehrlichman: "On the


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