Many extravagant claims have been made on behalf of the various health care "reforms" now emerging from Congress and the White House. But on closer inspection, virtually all prove to be false.
Yet even as many Americans start to have second thoughts about our government's possible takeover of the health care system, Congress is rushing to make it happen.
On Friday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a bill that would radically change our current system and expand coverage for the uninsured. The action came a day after the head of the Congressional Budget Office said none of the plans under review would slow health care spending. None of them.
Still, lawmakers and the White House press on, relying on GOP weakness in the House and a new veto-proof majority in the Senate. They're also relying on a lack of awareness that claims made on behalf of national health care may be mostly false. Among them:
• America has a health care crisis.
No, we don't. Forty-seven million people lack insurance. Of the remaining 85% of the population, or 258 million people, polls show high satisfaction with the current coverage. Indeed, a 2006 poll by ABC News, the Kaiser Family Foundation and USA Today found 89% of Americans were happy with their own health care.
As for the estimated 47 million not covered by health insurance, 20 million can afford to buy it, according to a study by former CBO Director June O'Neill. Most of the other 27 million are single and under 35, with as many as a third illegal aliens.
When it's all whittled down, as few as 12 million are unable to buy insurance — less than 4% of a population of 305 million. For this we need to nationalize 17% of our nation's $14 trillion economy and change the current care that 89% like?
• Health care reform will save money.
Few of the plans now coming out of Congress will save anything, says the CBO's current chief, Douglas Elmendorf. In fact, he says, they'll lead to substantially higher costs in the future — costs that will be "unsustainable."
As it is, estimates for reforming health care range from $1 trillion to $3.6 trillion. Much will be spent on subsidies to make a so-called public option more attractive to consumers than private plans.
To pay for it, the president has suggested about $600 billion in new taxes, meaning that $500 billion to $2.1 trillion in new health care spending over the next decade will be unfunded. This could push up the nation's already soaring deficit, expected to reach $10 trillion through 2019 without health care reform. Massive new tax hikes will probably be needed to close the gap.
• Only the rich will pay for reform.
The 5.4% surtax on millionaires the president is pushing gets all the attention, but everyone down to $280,000 in income will pay more. Doesn't that still leave out the middle class and poor? Sorry. Workers who decline to take part will pay a tax of up to 2% of earnings. And small-businesses must pony up 8% of their payrolls.
The poor and middle class must pay in other ways, without knowing it. The biggest hit will be on small businesses, which, due to new payroll taxes, will be less likely to hire workers. Today's 9.5% jobless rate may become a permanent feature of our economy — just as it is in Europe, where nationalized health care is common.
• Government-run health care produces better results.
The biggest potential lie of all. America has the best health care in the world, and most Americans know it. Yet we hear that many "go without care" while in nationalized systems it is "guaranteed."
U.S. life expectancy in 2006 was 78.1 years, ranking behind 30 other countries. So if our health care is so good, why don't we live as long as everyone else?
Three reasons. One, our homicide rate is two to three times higher than other countries. Two, because we drive so much, we have a higher fatality rate on our roads — 14.24 fatalities per 100,000 people vs. 6.19 in Germany, 7.4 in France and 9.25 in Canada. Three, Americans eat far more than those in other nations, contributing to higher levels of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
These are diseases of wealth, not the fault of the health care system. A study by Robert Ohsfeldt of Texas A&M and John Schneider of the University of Iowa found that if you subtract our higher death rates from accidents and homicide, Americans actually live longer than people in other countries.
In countries with nationalized care, medical outcomes are often catastrophically worse. Take breast cancer. According to the Heritage Foundation, breast cancer mortality in Germany is 52% higher than in the U.S.; the U.K.'s rate is 88% higher. For prostate cancer, mortality is 604% higher in the U.K. and 457% higher in Norway. Colorectal cancer? Forty percent higher in the U.K.
But what about the health care paradise to our north? Americans have almost uniformly better outcomes and lower mortality rates than Canada, where breast cancer mortality is 9% higher, prostate cancer 184% higher and colon cancer 10% higher.
Then there are the waiting lists. With a population just under that of California, 830,000 Canadians are waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment. In England, the list is 1.8 million deep.
Universal health care, wrote Sally Pipes, president of the Pacific Research Institute in her excellent book, "Top Ten Myths Of American Health Care," will inevitably result in "higher taxes, forced premium payments, one-size-fits-all policies, long waiting lists, rationed care and limited access to cutting-edge medicine."
Before you sign up, you might want to check with people in countries that have the kind of system the White House and Congress have in mind. Recent polls show that more than 70% of Germans, Australians, Britons, Canadians and New Zealanders think their systems need "complete rebuilding" or "fundamental change."
• The poor lack care.
Many may lack insurance, but that doesn't mean they lack care. The law says anyone who walks into a hospital emergency room must be treated. America has 37 million people in poverty, but Medicaid covers 55 million — at a cost of $350 billion a year.
Moreover, as many as 11 million of the uninsured qualify for programs for the indigent, including Medicaid and SCHIP. But for some reason, they don't sign up. Are they likely to sign up for the "public option" when it's made available?