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Misstatements About US Health Care System

Armen Hareyan's picture

Harvard University economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw -- a former adviser to President Bush, who currently is advising presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) -- on Sunday in a New York Times column discussed "true but misleading statements about health care that politicians and pundits love to use to frighten the public."

According to Mankiw, the first statement is that the U.S. has a lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rate than Canada, which has a national health insurance system. Mankiw writes that while differences between the two countries "are indeed significant," a recent study "shows that the difference in health outcomes has more to do with broader social forces," such as higher rates of obesity and teenage pregnancies resulting in low birthweight babies. He adds that "many statistics on health outcomes say little about our system of health care."

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The second "misleading" statement is that 47 million U.S. residents are uninsured, according to Mankiw. He writes that the Census Bureau figure "exaggerates the magnitude of the problem" by "masking tremendous heterogeneity in personal circumstances." Mankiw says that the Census Bureau number includes about 10 million residents "who are not American citizens," many of whom are undocumented immigrants who "would probably not be covered" under a national health insurance plan. It also includes millions of U.S. residents who have problems obtaining insurance "number far less than 47 million and they make up only a few percent of the population," which is why the U.S. "should be wary of sweeping reforms of our health system if they are motivated by the fact that a small percentage of the population is uninsured," according to Mankiw.

The final statement Mankiw discusses is that U.S. residents increasingly are spending a greater share of their income on health care. Mankiw writes that the rise in health care costs -- from about 5% of a person's income in 1950 to 16% now -- is not due to "waste, fraud and abuse, but advances in medical technology and growth of incomes." Mankiw concludes that as the U.S. looks "at reform plans, [U.S. residents] should be careful not to be fooled by statistics into thinking that the problems we face are worse than they really are" (Mankiw, New York Times, 11/4).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.