August 30, 2007 4:05PM

Stossel Critiques Commonwealth Fund Study

John Stossel has a good column on a recent Commonwealth Fund study comparing the U.S. health care system to those in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and Great Britain. That study reports, “Despite having the most costly health system in the world, the United States consistently underperforms on most dimensions of performance, relative to other countries.”

But Stossel observes that the United States does well in some measures while other measures are practically stacked against us:

The proportion of patients who say they got infected at a hospital counts about the same in the “quality” measure as the proportion of doctors who use automated computer systems to remind them to tell patients their test results. Those things aren’t equal in my book.

The study’s authors also consider having high administrative costs and spending the largest share of GDP on health care worse than having the highest share of patients who wait four months or more for surgery. This seems designed to make the U.S. look bad.

Finally, the study penalizes nations for having large numbers of patients who spent more than $1,000 on medical care out of pocket, as if third‐​party payment is somehow superior.

Stossel made one imprecise claim about the uninsured. He writes, “The same people are not uninsured year in and year out.” That’s mostly true. The estimate that there are 47 million uninsured Americans includes a lot of people who are temporarily uninsured and will regain coverage even if we do nothing.

But a lot of people are uninsured year in and year out. Government surveys estimate that 9 million to 26.4 million Americans are long‐​term uninsured (i.e., have spells without coverage that last more than two years). 

That doesn’t mean those chronically uninsured people aren’t eligible for government programs. Many are. Nor does it mean that they can’t afford health insurance. Many can. But they do exist, and we should be scrapping the government regulations and subsidies that make coverage and care unnecessarily expensive for them.