nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Yet Another Lazy Journalist Serves Up Debunked Claims About US Health Care (sigh)

An Op-Ed in the Washington Post rehashes all the old myths about US health care.

The best that can be said for the author is that he is too lazy to dig into how statistics can be manipulated.  Readers of Nostrums have seen posts on how this occurs (here, and here.)  Readers who haven't followed Nostrums for long can go see the whole discussion on this topic.

This is just an overview.  The column (Wash Post, Nov 9) alleges the following:

1.  US citizens don't live as long (the longevity myth).

Actually, when you take out deaths for violence and auto accidents, which have nothing to do with health care quality or access, the US is #1 in longevity.  Also, if you look at people 65 and older among many countries, the US exceeds almost all countries in years of life remaining.

2.  Infants don't survive as often in the US (the infant mortality myth).

In the US, if an infant, at any level of maturity, shows signs of a heart beat or spontaneous attempt to breathe, it's considered a "live birth," and counted in the mortality statistics.  I found over twenty different schemes for counting births in other countries that limit what can be called "live."  And not just in third world nations;  this includes France, Switzerland, and Germany, among others.  The mortality stats are manipulated by calling any infant under 24 weeks not "live", using only some of the WHO criteria for a live birth, not registering a premature infant as "live" until it survives to 9 months.  The most ridiculous is the Swiss requirement that an infant be 30 cm long in order to be considered "live."   This cooks the books by eliminating those infants most at risk from the mortality data.  In the US we don't play those kinds of games.

3.  In the US the uninsured can get care only by going to the ER (the free-riding myth)

The government's own data show that the most common frequenters of the ER are its own Medicaid patients, not the uninsured.  See my post here.

4.  The US has more deaths that could have been prevented (this one's new to me, I'll call it the avoidability myth)

I haven't seen this allegation before.  In my specialty, preventive medicine, we pretty much disregard data on "avoidability" because it's unreliable, subjective, uncommon, and overlaps too much with expected causes of death to be of any use.

I keep hoping we'll get to the point where the politicians can get beyond the slogans and distortion.  But if even the journalists can't manage it, we're doomed.

How about we require journalists to be re-credentialled by a taking comprehensive exam every five years, like doctors do?

Doc D

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