Thursday, May 8, 2008

Making abstract numbers mean something

I always hammer the exorbitant costs that we pay as individuals and as a nation for health care that is subpar compared to the care other western nations enjoy. Conservatives, many of whom profess some knowledge or expertise in economics, never want to engage on this ground. Perhaps that's because they know the numbers are against them and there's no point in defending the indefensible. Probably not, they spent 7 years defending the presidency of George W. Bush after all, but it's certainly a working theory.

Ezra Klein today notes how he would like to see Barack Obama engage John McCain on the issue,

Next time McCain goes off on the horrors of national health care, though, I'd love to see Barack Obama answer with something like, "what if I offered you a trade? I'll give you a system with lower infant mortality, higher life expectancy, shorter wait times, the promise that no one will ever, ever, ever become uninsured, and I'll give every individual -- not family, but individual -- in America a check for $3,027. That's what the French health care system offers. If you don't want it to be French, then I can give you the German system, and I'll be able to increase the personal check to $3,114. Either way."

That's the difference here, after all. Folks like to talk about Canada's wait times, but we spend $3,075 more per per person, per year, than they do. We spend almost $4,000 more, per person, per year, than Britain. So despite saving enough money to buy everyone in their country 3.5 ounces of solid gold every year, they still manage to cover everyone in their country while we leave 47 million of our fellow citizens uninsured and unprotected. Now, you can argue that that's a good thing. But I'd be interested to find out if most Americans would agree. Would they trade their current health care for French care -- health care that appears to help keep people healthier than our system does -- that came with an annual bonus of $3,000 in solid gold? In flat screen televisions? In vacations to places with beautiful beaches and topless sunbathers? In gift certificates to the gas station? My hunch is that most would. But the difference in spending needs to be made concrete.

I think he's right. There is something very abstract about numbers like "15% of GDP" (what we spend) or statements like "we spend twice as much per patient." Making these abstractions more tangible and concrete to the average voter will help demonstrate to people how terribly inefficient our system is and how the Republican Party is hell bent on keeping Americans locked into such a system.

1 comment:

rusty said...

yeeesh...although I respect much of Ezra's commentary, I am glad he is not speechwriting for Obama. Most Americans are too stubborn, prideful, and - let's face it - ignorant, to respond well to comparisons between anything American and anything French or German. I do not have any readily available data, but I would be extremely suprised if even one-quarter of our citizenry could even define GDP. And Klein's suggestion for Obama ignores the impossibility of ever obtaining anything close to the cost efficiencies of the French and German systems without adoption of a single payer system. Obviously Obama is not going to be proposing single payer so the economic comparisons here are really sort of hollow.

Also, idealization of anything European is not what the media-described "Elitist" needs floating around him before November. They tried to cast Kerry as a 21st-century Karl Marx for having a german wife, fluency in French, and being a good windsurfer and skier. (G.W.Bush cuts brush and has a I think I've heard you comment before, SPO, that the ignorance of the average voter should never be underestimated.

The best way to talk about this issue is relating human stories of suffering..."Sicko lite" if you will. What Hillary tried to do in Ohio, but managed to of course screw up with inadequate fact-checking.

Although I have a habit of nitpicking Klein, I do like seeing the posts because they get me thinking. thanks.