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.

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