A Challenge to Jesse Larner

Over at Huffington Post, Jesse Larner has a lengthy piece on Michael Moore’s film SiCKO and the right-wing reaction to it. Larner calls SiCKO “a clumsy piece of propaganda” and thoughtfully explains how Moore is dead wrong when it comes to the health care systems (and the overall economies) of France and Cuba. Larner concludes that SiCKO is so irresponsible that Moore ultimately injures his own cause.

Unfortunately, Larner stumbles quite a bit. He claims that people don’t die on waiting lists in Canada’s health care system. Canada’s Supreme Court disagrees. He claims that America’s relatively high infant mortality rates make our system obviously worse than other nations. That claim is dubious, since we tend to try to save premature infants that other nations don’t. He makes the same claim about our mediocre life expectancy statistics; but once one controls for fatal injuries and homicides, our life expectancy stats come out better than all other advanced nations’. (If life expectancy really is a “measur[e] of international health care quality,” then does that mean our health care system is the best? I’m not sure, but Larner must think so.) He repeats persistent myths about administrative costs in Canada and America. And he speaks of the bureaucratization and rationing in Canadian and British versions of socialized medicine as if these were unfortunate choices rather than inevitabilities.

Larner also misrepresents the perspectives of Cato scholars. Setting aside whether libertarians are part of the right wing, here are the two places where Larner mentions Cato health policy scholars:

  1. “[T]he trends that emerge show that the American free enterprise system of health care is doing worse than the folks at the Cato Institute would like you to believe, and that socialized medicine systems are doing better.”
  2. “The free enterprise people at Cato and the Heritage Foundation are always moaning about the enormous cost of preventive medicine.”

I am somewhat familiar with Cato’s health policy work, and those depictions do not ring true. I challenge Larner to show where a Cato scholar either (1) describes America’s as a “free enterprise system of health care,” or (2) “moan[s] about the enormous cost of preventive medicine.” I could be wrong, but I suspect he will have difficulty substantiating either claim.

Finally, Larner writes, “these issues [that Moore raises] are important and deserve a better hearing than either Moore or the reactionary right is willing to give them.” Cato has been giving those issues a good hearing. See here and here. (Another reason not to lump libertarians in with the right-wingers.)