Prager Myths

Dennis Prager comes out with several myths about the U.S. health care system (oh sorry, Dennis, the health insurance system) to try to prove that there is nothing that needs to be reformed. Everything is perfect. Those of us with insurance are happy campers and delighted with the service we get, and those of us without can always get care even if we don’t have insurance. What planet is this man living on? Who pays his speaking fees? A teenager spending a few minutes on the Internet could dispel most of Prager’s myths.

He argues, for example, that it is totally untrue that the U.S. spends more on health care (oops, insurance) than other countries. All he needs to do – and what an enterprising youngster would do to get the facts – is to go here to the OECD analysis which is updated annually to see that indeed the U.S. as a percentage of GDP spends enormously more than other OECD nations and not by slim margins. The U.S. spends a staggering 16 percent of GDP on health – most of the OECD countries spend less than 10 percent of GDP.

According to Dennis, life expectancy is better in the U.S. Wrong again. At the age of 65, for instance, most people – males and females – in EU countries have longer life expectancies than their counterparts in the States.

A bemused Dennis also can’t understand how on earth you can mix public and private options. He asks: “Do you really believe that private insurance could survive a ‘public option’? Or is this really a cover for the ideal of single-payer medical care? How could a private insurance company survive a ‘public option’ given that private companies have to show a profit and government agencies do not have to – and given that a private enterprise must raise its own money to be solvent and a government option has access to others’ 
money — i.e., taxes?”

Oh dear, Dennis, you need to get a passport and travel a bit, old boy. PPP and BUPA have survived fine in the UK running alongside Britain’s National Health Service. Several other European countries have thriving private health insurance companies that work with or compete with the public systems, e.g. in Belgium, France and Italy. Oh, and by the way, most educated and travelled people, and a lot of health experts, would argue that the best health system in the OECD countries is in Belgium with high quality and prompt service. Germany comes next. After experiences in hospitals in several OECD countries, including the U.S., put me in a Belgian or German hospital before sending me to a U.S. one.

Not content with coming out with nonsense when it comes to statistics, Dennis than comes up with an absurd objection to President Obama’s goal of stopping health insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. “If any individual can buy health insurance at any time, why would anyone buy health insurance while healthy? Why would I not simply wait until I got sick or injured to buy the insurance?”

That is easily navigated. Make it compulsory for everyone to have health insurance but make sure there are affordable cost options and premiums. Let’s do a quick comparison. I have an individual health insurance policy in the U.S. — it costs me more than $450 a month. I have also private medical insurance from a UK company that covers me anywhere in Europe: it costs me about $140 a month and it is far more extensive than the U.S. one.

Separately from Prager, Clive Crook has an excellent piece in today’s Financial Times, making the point that the President is making a hash of reform and is starting to back-track. He needs to argue specifics, Crook says, and he is right. Trust the congressional Democrats to make a mess of things even when they have big majorities.

Home for the Holidays

The UK Telegraph reports that record numbers of Britons are staying in the UK for their summer vacations. Debenhams are sending urgent supplies of flip-flops to seaside towns that were deserted in past years.

It isn’t only Britons who are staying close to home for the summer. The north-east coastal towns of Italy have seen a fall-off of the tourist trade with more than 30 percent declines from the numbers of last summer. And last year was no fun for the hotels of Rimini and other northern seaside towns with 20 percent or more declines then.

Where I am working from currently in Lazio, the numbers are clearly down as well. Largo di Bolsena is without the Dutch and Swedes this year, with just a few around and those normally are the ones who own property in the area. And this weekend the lake was crowded with local families who can’t afford to travel south or visit overseas. The Tuscan beaches are virtually empty on weekdays.

Horse Race Coverage of Health Care Reform

Politico’s coverage today of the health care debate is typical of the nature and poor quality of what is being offered by the US media — traditional press and online — when it comes to reporting on what is likely to be the biggest reform of Obama’s first term. You could read the whole piece and have no idea of what is being proposed and counter-proposed, of how ordinary Americans will be impacted. There are seldom any details in the reports coming from the press and this is where online could do much better — everything is always about who has what votes, what the legislative process is and what the obstacles are and who may have to pay more tax. Details of proposals and how they might play out in the real world would be useful. But then the horse race has always taken first place for journalists who forget who their audience is — and that is, of course, why the audience is deserting them.

FT Editor Predicts Pay Walls Around News

Lionel Barber, the FT editor is a thoughtful man and has certainly had success with building a partial pay wall around FT online content — you pay if you want to access more than a handful of articles a month. The FT has 110,000 subscribers and over a million who make do with a few reads every month. But he may be a tad over-optimistic when he forecasts that within a year most authoritative news will be protected by pay walls.

As is clear now, the current business model for news organizations in the online age doesn’t work. Free access and advertising is not paying the bills. But throwing up pay walls will reduce the number of readers and turn off advertisers. Will subscriptions make up the difference and provide the income for expensive news-gathering operations? Well it didn’t when newspapers really were newspapers. Back in the old days most top newspapers made only a fraction of their income from news-stand sales and deliveries. The big bucks came from advertising. Why should it be any different online?

Another point worth making. Pay walls may undermine news aggregators but the middle ranking newspapers — and further down the line, the bottom feeders — may well be prepared to pay the price of subscriptions in order to re-write the material. This is what newspapers have been doing for years with AP, Reuters, AFP and PA and slapping a false by-line on the results.

Barber and the pay-wallers will have to take into account the news organizations that don’t have pressing need for advertising and subscriber revenue — namely, public broadcasters like the BBC and NPR.

A sour point. Barber should stop being snooty about bloggers: some are former journalists, others are developing their craft and evolving much as Grub Street did in the 18th century.

A Passport to Make Phone Call

Why did innovative Apple go into business with AT&T, a company that makes GM appear cutting-edge? Last week, I got a new I-phone – great. Alas, AT&T is the exclusive carrier in the U.S. and what a nightmare company to deal with. Now I learn that to be able to make an overseas call and have international service I have to fax (!?) AT&T a copy of my passport, a utility bill, etc. Now that is 21st century! And people wonder why old US companies need the taxpayers to bail them out. This customer is off – back to T-mobile.