Stirring Incomplete Information from Michael Moore

I touched on this yesterday, especially in the comments, but Michael Moore has trouble with facts. I wouldn’t call him a liar, because he’s a skilled propagandist. The facts, out of context, are still the facts. Forget that such abuse of context fails to reveal anything intelligent about policy. As long as it’s a fact, it can be defended.

That’s his tactic today in challenging CNN’s reporting on Sicko, with the requisite omission of any context. For example, Moore praises Cuba’s health system, although the WHO ranks Cuba 39th compared to the U.S. ranking at 37. Moore rebuts this “gotcha” moment from CNN by stating that he put this figure in the movie. Fair enough; I don’t doubt that he did. He’s generally guilty of omission, not commission. He’s a propagandist, so no surprises.

What he fails to do is provide any context for those rankings. The latest link I can find describes it’s methodology in determining that ranking:

In designing the framework for health system performance, WHO broke new methodological ground, employing a technique not previously used for health systems. It compares each country’s system to what the experts estimate to be the upper limit of what can be done with the level of resources available in that country. It also measures what each country’s system has accomplished in comparison with those of other countries.

WHO’s assessment system was based on five indicators: overall level of population health; health inequalities (or disparities) within the population; overall level of health system responsiveness (a combination of patient satisfaction and how well the system acts); distribution of responsiveness within the population (how well people of varying economic status find that they are served by the health system); and the distribution of the health system’s financial burden within the population (who pays the costs).

Broke new methodological ground. Oh, and employing a technique not previously used for health systems. Don’t forget comparing to what the experts estimate. Is it possible to have methodological flaws, or to at least draw irrelevant conclusions based on estimates?

But let’s get to the last two measures. For distribution of responsiveness, how many people in the United States are denied adequate health care, a question independent of whether or not they’ll face an economic burden from that health care? In the answer, would you rather be the average American or the average Cuban? I suppose if you believe that Moore’s visit to Cuba first-rate hospitals was more honest than mere propaganda from a Communist state, the answer isn’t obvious. But any answer other than the U.S. is wrong.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we have the financial burdens perfectly figured out, which is the last measure from the WHO. Again, no one is denied medical care, which should matter. Moore ignores that when he (apparently¹) fails to mention long waits and rationing for essential services in countries with single-payer health care. But specifically to funding, it’s not objective to decide that too many people face economic ruin (not a percentage of bankruptcies, as Moore states, but how many people?) from the system we have, so we should place the burden exclusively on taxpayers. That’s a pre-determined solution without concern for the actual problem, which is economic burden.

If we’re looking to reduce the economic burden from a health crisis, insurance to cover catastrophic medical care is the way to go. Have people pay for their own preventive care, or buy separate insurance for that, if they choose. But disentangle coverage for catastrophic events from coverage for routine care. The current situation we have where the two are co-mingled is largely a government-created problem. Fix the broken government incentive problem by removing improperly targeted incentives, such as tax-subsidized employer health insurance.

Instead we’re left with disingenuous framing of the problem while ignoring what would actually resolve the issues we face. This quote exemplifies focusing on wrong assumptions:

“It is especially beneficial to make sure that as large a percentage as possible of the poorest people in each country can get insurance,” says [Dr Julio Frenk, Executive Director for Evidence and Information for Policy at WHO]. “Insurance protects people against the catastrophic effects of poor health. What we are seeing is that in many countries, the poor pay a higher percentage of their income on health care than the rich.”

Dr. Frenk’s opening sentence is fine, if he understands the true problem. The rest of his quote suggests he does not. If he understood, he would’ve stated that insurance against catastrophic medical events protects people from the catastrophic financial effects. He didn’t, offering only the empty, obvious fact that the poor pay a higher percentage of their income on heath care than the rich. Of course they do, just like the poor pay a higher percentage of their income on food, housing, gasoline, clothing, and every other generally necessary expense. This is not news, nor is it specific cause for government intervention through economic redistribution² and health care financing and provision, contrary to what Moore believes.

Moore also thinks the 20 to 30 percent of Canadians who disapprove of their waiting times for health care don’t matter. The minority never matters to a populist, or the liberty lost to mob rule. Now ask yourself if Moore’s comparison of American and Cuban infant mortality rates, for example, might have a bit more nuance than he’s letting on.

Link to Moore’s rant via Boing Boing. Moore’s rant on CNN here.

¹ Full Disclosure: I still haven’t seen Sicko. Viewing it isn’t necessary for my analysis here. Also, I have no respect for the WHO, since it promotes a gender bias in unnecessary, forced genital cutting, and it’s incapable of understanding that circumcision to prevent HIV infection is better suited for sexually active adults who volunteer for the procedure based on their own evaluation, rather than forcing the surgery on infants who will not be sexually active for well over a decade.

² I wonder what Dr. Frenk’s position would be on taxes to pay for health care. Would he be as distressed that the rich pay a (much) higher percentage of their income in taxes than the poor? If it’s about fairness in percentage, a little fairness in analysis might be useful.