Sunday, November 11, 2007

U.S. Health Care, According to The New York Times

In the movie Patton, when asked if he reads the Bible, General Patton replies, “Every God-Damn day!”

I might answer the same if asked if I read The York Times. Its reporting on health care is simply too important not to be missed, and its editorial page, which faithfully reflects its ideological beliefs.

New York Times reporters do an excellent job reporting health care news and physician activities, though they’re sometimes critical about doctors using technologies for personal gain.

The Times Op-Ed page is something else again. It has never met a single payer scheme it didn’t like, claims most developed countries have vastly superior health systems, tirelessly thumps health planks of Democratic presidential candidates, and never misses a chance to criticize the “lagging U.S. health system” (lagging is The Times favorite word for describing our system).

Health Care Reporting

Let’s first consider The Times health care reporting. Take the Nov. 6 edition.

It presents a profile on Col. John Holcomb, the army’s top trauma surgeon, who, among other things, is said to conduct overly-aggressive clinical trials on the battlefield, and is fond of quoting the statistic, that, among U.S. civilians, trauma leads all diseases in terms of life-years lost, more than heart disease or cancer. That’s useful statistic to keep in mind when comparing national health systems, for if one takes trauma and violence into consideration, U.S. longevity statistics are comparable to any other country.

It reports on withdrawal from the market of Bayer AG’s heart drug, Trasylol, on basis of Canadian and NEJM studies suggesting the drug increases death rates among heart. dialysis, and stroke patients.

It tells the tale of Susan Wicklund, M.D., an abortion doctor as told in her forthcoming book, This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor (Public Affairs).

It announces the Times Health Guide which contains information on more than 3000 health care topics.

There reports are balanced straight reporting.


Now let’s look at The Times editorials and one Op-Ed column, that of Paul Krugman, as evidence of a newspaper with its ideological blinders on.

Here’s the opening of Krugman’s Nov.9 column,

“Health Care Excuses,”
“The United States spends far more on health care per person than any other nation. Yet we have lower life expectancy than most other rich countries. Furthermore, every other advanced country provides all its citizens with health insurance; only in America is a large fraction of the population uninsured or underinsured.”

“You might think that these facts would make the case for major reform of America’s health care system — reform that would involve, among other things, learning from other countries’ experience — irrefutable. Instead, however, apologists for the status quo offer a barrage of excuses for our system’s miserable performance.”

No mention is made here that European nations like The Netherlands and Switzerland are turning to consumer-driven solutions, or that if one removes violence and accidents from the statistical mix, U.S. longevity is just as good as any other country; or that many countries with universal coverage lack access to life-saving high technologies, have overt rationing, feature long waiting lines, allow many patients to die while waiting or after being sent home to put their affairs in order, or that socialized systems can’t simultaneously have generous social welfare benefits and robust economies.

An Oct. 31 editorial “America’s Lagging Health Care, “The Times editorialist, says our “fragmented” system (code for lack of universal coverage) is sub par and substandard, performs poorly compared to other nations, causes Americans routinely to go without care, and fails to afford access to primary care physicians – all cited in a survey by the Commonwealth Foundation, its favorite think tank. Nothing is said of contrary points of view by think tanks like the Cato Institute, the Hoover Institute, the Manhattan Institute, or the American Enterprise Institute.

The culture of The New York Times editorial staff and
Its Op-ED contributors, idealistic and admirable as it may be, doesn’t necessarily represent fit the facts or represent the opinions as seen by others.

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