Tag Archives: health insurance

Too stupid to notice

Here's a fun item in the Wall Street Journal.  It's fun because it's an intellectual disaster.  Here, just for entertainment, is one glaring and obvious problem:

"The cost of treating the 45 million uninsured is shifted to the rest of us."

So on Monday, Wednesday and Friday we are harangued about the 45 million people lacking medical care, and on Tuesday and Thursday we are told we already pay for that care. Left-wing reformers think that if they split the two arguments we are too stupid to notice the contradiction. Furthermore, if cost shifting is bad, wait for the Mother of all Cost Shifting when suppliers have to overcharge the private plans to compensate for the depressed prices forced on them by the public plan.

This is is not a contradiction, as the clueless author of this dismal piece suggests.  Besides, 45 million people lack health insurance (of any variety) but many more lack meaningful health insurance.  For the consequences of that, read this article in the New York Times.  Because it is printed in that paper, it is indisputably true.  Anyway, back to the point, people who lack health insurance, the good argument goes, still will seek life-saving medical care (after having put off routine care).  Someone will pay for that.  The cost will be much higher than it would have been had these people been insured like the rest of us. 

The rest of the piece reads like a series of examples from a textbook on informal fallacies.  More on that later, maybe.  But let me close with this tidbit from the Times' article mentioned above:

At St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, where he went for two separate heart procedures last year, the hospital’s admitting office looked at Mr. Yurdin’s coverage and talked to Aetna. St. David’s estimated that his share of the payments would be only a few thousand dollars per procedure.

He and the hospital say they were surprised to eventually learn that the $150,000 hospital coverage in the Aetna policy was mainly for room and board. Coverage was capped at $10,000 for “other hospital services,” which turned out to include nearly all routine hospital care — the expenses incurred in the operating room, for example, and the cost of any medication he received.

In other words, Aetna would have paid for Mr. Yurdin to stay in the hospital for more than five months — as long as he did not need an operation or any lab tests or drugs while he was there.

Aetna contends that it repeatedly informed Mr. Yurdin and the hospital of the restrictions in policy, which is known in the industry as a limited-benefit plan.

Hurray for private insurance!

The public option

The ongoing (and coming?) health care debate will no doubt be a gold mine of sloppy and dishonest reasoning.  We've already noticed some examples of this already.  Just as the debate over gay marriage seems to inspire certain particular patterns of fallacious reasoning (the equivocation on "marriage" and the slippery slope), I think the health care debate will have its own definitive fallacies.  At the moment, I'm thinking that we'll see a lot of red herring–changing the subject from the less appealing facts of the matter (for instance, the fact that Americans pay more for health care and get less than other developed nations) to tangentially related, yet incendiary, notions such as "socialism."

But I think we'll also see a whole lot of weak analogy–in particular comparisons of health insurance to any other complex consumer product.  Here's one from George Will yesterday:

Some advocates of a public option say health coverage is so complex that consumers will be befuddled by choices. But consumers of many complicated products, from auto insurance to computers, have navigated the competition among providers, who have increased quality while lowering prices.

Those things are different in that they are largely optional purchases.  Sure, you "need" them, but you don't need them.  I might mention, by the way, that auto insurance is legally mandated for all drivers (yet another difference from health insurance–and I doubt, by the way, that Will would advocate such a mandate).  In any case, before one starts comparing health insurance to any other consumer product, one ought to take note of the vast differences.  Few products typical consumers (i.e., anyone of any income level) would absolutely have to buy involve possible outlays of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And few of those products carry with them (often in their fine print) the real possibility of physical and financial ruin.

In the interest of fairness, I should point out that this entire piece, however bad, does not argue against the feasibility or desirability of single-payer health coverage.  In fact, it does a lot to make the case for it (though not on purpose).  Will's purpose is merely to argue against the "public option."  I think his argument is bad (citing as it does Mort Kondrake and a health insurance industry funded study), but I think such an option is a bad one (for other reasons).