Clippings: Anecdotes, data tell same story

Anecdotes, a single relatable story, apparently trump data.
We value stories more than unwieldy columns of numbers when we make decisions.
For example, taxes. Hey, we might be rich someday, why would we want millionaires to pay as much as their secretaries? Fantasy outweighs the reality that 99 percent of us aren’t suddenly going to join the 1 percent, really by definition.
And so it goes with health care. Your barber knows somebody whose cousin’s brother-in-law had to wait six months for a nose job in Saskatoon, so Canada’s national health system stinks.
So what if a 2009 study from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions shows that 46 percent of Canadians give their healthcare system an A or a B, while at the same time in the U.S. 22 percent said our system made the honor roll and 38 percent awarded it a D or an F?
Boring … Did you hear about the latest “Idol” contestant?
But what if at the same time in 2009 that care cost every Canadian $3,895, and every American $7,290?
Obamacare! Death panels! They’re going to murder your great-aunt! Socialism!
Or outright lies like this from an apparently once-serious contender for U.S. president:
“They have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands, but half the people who are euthanized every year, and it’s 10 percent of all deaths, half of those people are euthanized involuntarily in hospitals, because they are older and sick,” Rick Santorum said in February. “So elderly people in the Netherlands don’t go to the hospital. They go to another country. Because they’re afraid because of budget purposes they will not come out of that hospital if they go in with sickness.”
See, that’s why in 2010 the Dutch hated their health care system so much that 9 percent of them, according to a study commissioned by The Commonwealth Fund, wanted to rebuild it completely.
That would be compared to 27 percent of Americans in the same survey, by the way. 
Of course, in 2007 the Dutch were spending $3,094 per capita while we were coughing up $6,697 apiece. Is that your insurance company behind you examining you while you cough?
OK, snoozefest. There are cats who look like Hitler on the Internet. Give me an anecdote, you say.
All right: In the late 1980s I had private insurance and a bone spur in my left foot. It wasn’t a big spur, but when I ran, it hurt. I like to run, at least if I have a ball to play with. I’ve evolved as far as many dogs.
I was referred to a surgeon in Burlington. The bill came to $5,000. I expected to pay about 20 percent. For reasons that four of us  — my dad, then a practicing physician; my mom, who once handled billing in my dad’s office; my wife, a cum laude college graduate; and me, a don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-in-the-rear-on-the-way-out college graduate — couldn’t figure out despite two hours of reading the policy’s fine print, my share came to $2,500.
I dunno, right then I would have been happy to be living in Canada, where health care costs half as much per capita, and have waited for a couple more months before my elective surgery and had no bill. (Even if that waiting period is accurate, which statistics don’t really bear out, but I don’t want to bore you with more data.)
Let’s just say I’ve dealt with insurance companies, my family has lived in Canada and the U.K. My dad can tell you about how those systems do work.
Oh, time for another anecdote. My brother-in-law recently spent a year or so in Germany while his wife did high-level scientific research. While there he needed a minor surgical procedure. He received courteous, efficient and government-sponsored care. Unlike visitors to the U.S. from more civilized nations would have received here.
I did do some research, by the way, and found a bunch of data. Ours is not the least popular health care system in the world, but it’s damn close. And it is by far the most expensive, and that’s not even close. Switzerland, the No. 2, is about two-thirds as expensive as we are, and it’s the most popular system.
I can also tell you I found a great summary of how systems are perceived in their homelands. Mark Hoofnagle, who has a doctorate from the University of Virginia and, at least when he wrote this blog in 2009, was a surgical resident, found all kinds of good data and published it here: http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2009/05/are_patients_in_universal_heal….
Hoofnagle’s conclusion?
“We spend more (per capita), almost twice as much as any other country. Despite that, our wait times for physicians are worse, we pay far more out of pocket for prescriptions and copays than any other system, we spend more on administration of health care than any other country, we have more people who avoid seeing the doctor for fear of costs, and we are more likely to say we want our system scrapped.”
My conclusion? Given a choice, I’d take my chances with government health care rather than spending more time dealing with health insurance bean counters.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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