CEPR Could Be Right: After All, Anything is Possible

David Hogberg writes:

At first this column in the Sacramento Bee by Marc Weisbrot of the left-wing Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) seemed pretty unremarkable — the usual silly nonsense about how government-run health care would be better than the private sector. It contained the typical leftist talking point about how we spend more than other countries but they “they have better health outcomes in terms of life expectancy and infant mortality.” I’ve written a letter to the Sac Bee explaining why those two measures tell us next to nothing about a health care system. We’ll see if they print it.Of course, Weisbrot should be aware that those measures are misleading, as we have criticized CEPR for using such measures before. Nevertheless, what made this column somewhat remarkable was this line: “The private sector in health insurance has proven to be much more inefficient than the public sector.” After I picked myself up off the floor, I could only think, “Surely he jests!”

Clearly, Weisbrot needs to read up on the “efficiency” of the public sector. He advocates expanding Medicare to cover all Americans, yet, as a National Bureau of Economic Research paper shows, Medicare is so inefficient that it wastes up to one dollar in five on care that provides no benefit. Nor is it particularly efficient at ensuring quality care: A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that on twenty-two of thirty-seven indicators of necessary care, at least one in five Medicare patients did not receive the necessary care.

One might also look north, to the health care system of Canada, which Weisbrot claims insures “just about everyone.” It is so badly mismanaged that it must resort to waiting lists and cancel surgeries to ration care. The consequences are deadly. In 2002 the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that in Southern Ontario alone over a two-year period 50 people died and another 73 suffered a heart attack while on a waiting list to receive a cardiac catheterization.

Of course, it’s possible that Weisbrot has a definition of efficiency that the rest of us are unfamiliar with. After all, he co-authored an amusing book with the title Social Security: The Phony Crisis, so anything is possible.

Note: A typo was corrected in this post. The original version of this post said 83 people in Southern Ontario suffered a heart attack while on a waiting list; the correct number is 73.

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