Phobic Innumeracy

August 14, 2007 | By | 7 Replies More

In an article from the Washington Post we learn that the United States has slipped in the ranking for life expectancy in the world to number 42. Douglas Adams aside, this is not a good thing.

The article lists a good many factors contributing to this fact, which seems paradoxical since, as stated, we spend more on health care than any other nation. I’m not surprised. Americas in general live as though built like Abrams tanks. We work hard, we party hard, and we loaf hard. We eat badly, pay no attention to our personal health, assuming that if anything really goes wrong “the doctor can fix it.” We believe, innately, that we’re indestructible and can do anything. This leads to careless habits. One factor cited is that 45 million of us lack health insurance. Which brings me to the peeve of this post.

There is a talk show mouth named Mark Christopher.  His show is out of Nashville, but you can hear him (in St. Louis) on KTRS 550. This guy is a Rush Limbaugh wannabe. And one of his horses to ride hobbyistically is an ongoing rant against national health care. He’s phobic about this. Every other day he has some little tidbit about how bad health care is in other countries that have a state health care system. He commented yesterday on this report in the Washington Post. Now, aside from the fact that he cherry picked the article, which cited factors he then went on to name as if the Washington Post had not, he displayed a profound case of Innumeracy.

He said (I paraphrase) that in a country of 300 million, 45 million people is a “drop in the bucket.” Meaning that we ought not overturn our wonderful private health care system (which is going to bankrupt us eventually) for so few who just fall out of the system. 45 million out of 300 million is 15%. That is hardly a drop in the bucket. To put that in perspective, that would be one and half out of ten, or three out of twenty. Fifteen of every hundred people. Which means that on an average city block (which I determined by standing on my street and counting) of roughly 35 houses with an average of four people per house, there are around 21 people with no reliable health care. On one block.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that among those 21 we have 2 or 3 cases of tuberculosis (which is a rising problem in this country). Tuberculosis is highly infectious. How fast might that spread among the various blocks around us? Another way to look at it. The worst battlefield casualties the United States ever experienced were in the Civil War, which sometimes reached 30%. They averaged between 12 and 18%. A modern army–-ours—regards 5% heavy and anything approaching 10% unacceptable. And fighting a war is by far more expensive than average health care costs. The unbelievable inability—or, more likely, carelessness—of someone with a national talk show to understand the most basic arithmetic in this way verges on criminal.

If 15% of our population dropped dead tomorrow, I assure you we would notice. It would not be “a drop in the bucket.” We are nationally anxious about 6 coal miners in Utah who may be dead and if they are, we will demand an investigation. We can’t 6 people dying in a mining accident. But in the sphere of health care, 45 million people become a drop in the bucket. The phobia that has taken root over this issue has become one of those insurmountable arguments that has run headlong into panic.

We Americans—I think all of us, it just depends on what aspect of our lives is under discussion—our suspicious of government. If it’s not national health care, then it’s Big Brother. Liberals, conservatives, and combination thereof, Americans can find something we don’t want the government to run. We have always been like this, it’s nothing new. And we are often stupid about it. But the world is shrinking and in so doing making it less and less possible for us to escape the consequences of ill-considered, knee-jerk prejudice. I don’t care how this issue gets resolved. Even if we do end up with some kind of federalized health care system, we will abuse it, it will cost too much, and it will still be bent to the service of a nation of people who act like they can do anything they want—play, eat, party, work, or loaf—too much and think nothing bad will come of it.

Which means that the most cost-effective health care system—prophylaxis—will not be the one that gets the priority. Insurance companies must be made to offer things like well baby care and prenatal coverage now. Taking care of a problem before it becomes something that lands us in the emergency room costs far less, but we don’t, for the most part, do that now. And we have a absurd and irrational devotion to extending Life far past any possibility of meaningful living, which is still where the bulk of our expense here falls (though obesity related health issues are rapidly catching up).

Whatever we do, the basic tenets of good health care will probably still be ignored by a people who think they don’t have to pay attention personally to their own health care. Which is reflected in the Washington Post article as well. But I am profoundly tired of the misinformation spread by both sides of the debate, and the incredible lack of grasp people who ought to know better have on the most basic aspects of problem-solving.

End of rant. You may now return to your regularly scheduled panic.


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Category: American Culture, Communication, Consumerism, Culture, Current Events, Economy, Education, Health, Media, Medicine, Psychology Cognition, Science, Statistics

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (7)

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  1. Xiaogou says:

    A phrase comes to mind when you look at the American health problems., "Follow the money!" Ask yourself where is all the money going and what is it doing.

    1) Drug companies spend millions or billions on research for new drugs.

    2) Drug companies makes billions if not trillions as the drugs are sold to people who have diseases.

    3) Upper management in these drug companies makes large sums of money in income.

    4) Doctors goes on trips sponsored by these drug companies to resort areas to hear about the newest drugs.

    5) People pay doctors to heal them of illnesses.

    6) The FDA stays in business and get paid for approving and monitoring these drugs made by the drug companies.

    This is simplified, but the Drug companies, FDA and doctors make money from people being ill.

    In ancient China the system was that the doctors were paid for everyday the patient was healthy and sick people did not pay the doctor and it was his duty to heal the patient. In a capitalistic society this may not be a feasable health system, but the emphasis for the doctor was if you wanted to eat have a lot of healthy people.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Mark Christopher's comment fortifies the cultural wall that the conservatives have been busy building for decades. On one side of the wall are all of those smart holy monied deserving people and on the other side (the side that includes the 45 million uninsured) are the losers, the people who not only didn't succeed but shouldn't have succeeded.

    Conservatives like Christopher are essentialists. They believe that the people who are poor are of uniformly bad character. They got what they deserved. All poor are the same. Therefore we don't have an obligation to step in and give them a hand. What's the use? The deserving poor? That's redundant!

    In short, conservatives like Christopher are social darwinists. Their taxcut-obsessed outlook blinds them to possibilities for stepping in to dramatically improve the lives of innumerable struggling people.

  3. Erika Price says:

    And with painful irony, many upper-middle-class people throw their money away on treatment for conditions they may not even have. I refer of course to "informative" television drug advertisements that use vague language and scare tactics to convice as many people as possible that they have a medical condition. We see this in the overdiagnosis of ADHD in suburban areas versus the underdiagnosis in rural and urban areas. We see this in the advertisements that can make anyone with heartburn believe they have acid reflux (and need a drug for it). We see this in those ridiculously vauge commercials about Restless Leg Syndrome, which use such varied and ambigous discriptions that countless unafflicted people could believe they have the condition (and need a drug for it). How twisted that those that can afford healthcare may get too much!

  4. name withheld upon r says:

    The premise of your rant is faulty, and thus are its conclusions. It is one thing to aver that X million people in the U.S. do not have health INSURANCE, which may be a correct statement. It is quite another thing to aver that X million people in the U.S. do not have health CARE, which is not correct.

    Drop by the emergency room of your local hospital and you will see what is meant. This is not to suggest that everyone has access to equivalent health care, which is a different debate.

  5. Jason Rayl says:

    Name Withheld….

    I would suggest you look at the stats on how many people never visit a doctor—nor take their children to one—due to lack of insurance. By the time they wind up in an emergency room, the whole concept of CARE is corrupted. That's not health care, it's a health patch. It is not the same thing, though I agree with you that everyone has access to medical treatment. It may seem like a distinctiion without a difference, but the reason our emergency room service—and our health expense, to some extent—is so damnably expensive is that people without insurance do not get CARE. It is not care to take of something only when it's broken.

    Emergency room care is short term, does not guarantee (or usually provide) follow-up, does not answer long term illness in any meaningful way, does NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM.

    So respectfully, my premise is not flawed. Standards which see the patch as the cure are flawed.

    Besides, it doesn't matter. My rant had to do with the attitude expressed that 15% of a population is "a drop in the bucket" and the standards implied by a position like that.

  6. name withheld upon request says:

    what I don’t get is this…

    say i neglect my car. use cheap gas, don’t change the oil, ignore the antifreeze level. my engine blows and i get an estimate that i can’t afford to pay, so i ask the mechanic to just charge everybody else extra to pay for my repairs. would you be willing to chip in for me?

    that’s how health care works. i am paying extra to care for all the obese, smoking, alcoholic slobs who neither take care of themselves nor raise their families with any concern for fitness.

    i also wonder how many of the uninsured could get a decent paying job with health insurance – or pay for insurance themselves – if they were sufficiently motivated to get off their ass to do so. i’m also paying for those who can but don’t.

    doesn’t make sense to me.

  7. Jason Rayl says:

    Actually, auto insurance works that way too, and in most states it is now the Law that you have it. Those who do not have it not only vilate the law, but add to our expense.

    But that's how society works.

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