American humorist Evan Esar defined statistics as the science of producing unreliable facts from reliable figures. Statistics are universally revered, I think, because they offer something for everyone. Such is the case with the U.S. Census Bureau’s recently released statistics on health insurance enrollment in relation to income and poverty levels. There is plenty of conflicting information to snack on for proponents and opponents of government involvement in health care alike.
The rate of insureds was steady even while the economy faltered and poverty rates rose. The percentage of those with employer-based coverage decreased, yet the percentage of young adults covered increased. According to Timothy McBride, associate dean for public health at Washington University in St. Louis, “The data suggest both positive and negative movement in the underlying segments of the population that, in total, kept the overall uninsured rate almost flat.”
Well, perhaps some of the data are inexplicable, but for an in-depth analysis of the decrease in the number of people with employer-based coverage, I would add a parenthetical note that says (see: economy). You can prove or disprove nearly anything with nearly any given set of data. As with so many other arguments, where you stand on these issues depends largely on where you sit.
That said, the real story in most press accounts was buried at the end of the analysis — what journalists call “burying the lead.” After digesting the survey numbers, many reports suggest that focusing on insurance when you want to fix health care system problems is futile. Quoted in Modern Healthcare on Sept. 19, Dr. David Nash, dean of the Jefferson School of Population Health (Philadelphia), reaches what must be the ultimate conclusion: “The industry must improve quality, reduce waste and reduce medical errors. If that happened, there would be more than enough money for everybody. This is the lost message.”
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