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Posted by on Nov 4, 2007 in At TMV | 23 comments

Is Health Care Unaffordable or do Millions of Americans Just Have Other Priorities?

Today N. Gregory Mankiw, professor of economics at Harvard, writes in the New York Times about “true but misleading statements about health care that politicians and pundits love to use to frighten the public.”

Two of those statements are often used by Europeans to criticize the United States. One is about the infant mortality rate and the other about the 47 million Americans without health insurance. Mankiew on the latter statement:

The 47 million also includes many who could buy insurance but haven’t. The Census Bureau reports that 18 million of the uninsured have annual household income of more than $50,000, which puts them in the top half of the income distribution. About a quarter of the uninsured have been offered employer-provided insurance but declined coverage. Of course, millions of Americans have trouble getting health insurance. But they number far less than 47 million, and they make up only a few percent of the population of 300 million.

Given Mankiw’s analysis, the pro-American German blog antibuerokratieteam asks (rhetorically): “How bad is it that 47 million Americans don’t have health insurance?” I don’t know. It seems that health care is much more expensive in the United States, but also in many categories worse than in five other industrialized countries. Perhaps some households with $50,000 cannot afford health care, if they want to save money for the college education of their two kids? But that would still be their free choice, right? 

Well, the solution would obviously be a cheaper health care system. Two days ago, the New York Times ran another piece on health care by another Economist: Paul Krugman criticized Rudy Giuliani’s new radio ad attacking Democratic plans for universal health care. Giuliani claimed that the chances of surviving prostate cancer are much higher in the United States than in England. Krugman disagrees and concludes:

There’s very little evidence that Americans get better health care than the British, which is amazing given the fact that Britain spends only 41 percent as much on health care per person as we do.

Greg Anrig criticized Rudy Giuliani as well in the article “If it’s from Europe, forget it,” published in The Guardian three months ago: “Conservative dismissals of Democratic healthcare plans as ‘socialist’ explains a lot about the hole America is presently in.”

Anyway, Mankiw makes some good points. There are many reasons, why 47 million Americans don’t have health insurance. Europeans should not use that statistic to trash the United States as an inhumanely capitalistic country with widespread poverty and lack of minimum welfare.

Cross-posted from my blog.