Redistribution of Health

We were thinking of writing a column titled something like “47 Reasons Why Lists Are Lazy Journalism,” but we decided that would be overambitious. So instead we’re going to look at one list, “8 Facts That Explain What’s Wrong With American Health Care,” by Vox’s Sarah Kliff, and focus on a particularly silly item on it, No. 3.

Some of the items on her list are legitimate criticisms, such as No. 4: “Our health insurance system is the product of random WWII-era tax provisions.” Although that’s not exactly factual: The word “random” makes it at best an opinion, and perhaps an outright falsehood, for as Kliff notes, the move toward employer-provided insurance was a response to wartime wage controls.

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Kliff complains that “the government loses out on $260 billion annually by not taxing health benefits,” though she neglects to mention that a key component of ObamaCare is a premium-subsidy scheme that will considerably increase the tax expenditure on private medical insurance. She does, however, include fact No. 8: “Obamacare is not universal health care.” She concludes: “There will still, in decades to come, be people who can’t afford health insurance. That means there will be millions who rely on free clinics for medical care.” Why exactly that is a problem, she doesn’t say.

But as we said, the item that caught our attention was No. 3: “Half of all healthcare spending goes towards 5 percent of the population.”

It sounds like a standard progressive-populist plaint about inequality: The wealthy are getting more than their fair share! On average (as of 2009, prior to ObamaCare), the top 5% “use $40,000 of health care annually. The lower-spending half of the population, meanwhile, spent a paltry $236 per person during that same year.”

Except it isn’t the wealthy vs. the poor. What these haves have isn’t money but medical conditions requiring expensive treatment. “High health-care spenders aren’t richer Americans buying up lots of health care,” Kliff acknowledges. “Instead, these tend to be the sickest patients.” Hey, go figure.