In a newspaper op-ed, economist David Felix offers a clear-eyed assessment of Michael Moore’s SiCKO, which has been attacked by opponents as being rooted in naive economic assumptions and fallacious data.

He specifically takes on criticism of SiCKO by John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis. The NCPA has gone so far as to start an anti-Moore Web site.

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Writes Felix:

The incentive for private health insurance companies is to maximize profits by insuring low-risk clients and rejecting high risk ones. That incentive promotes private bureaucratic rationing of services and intensified screening of applicants. The U.S. public sector and private charities have thus been pressured to finance treatment of some sort for the rapidly rising millions of U.S. uninsured and underinsured. “Sicko” illustrates various aspects of the problem. Goodman gives it no mention whatsoever.

Waiting time is emphasized by Goodman, although he ignores some important dimensions of the waiting issue, and presents biased treatment of others. Thus the socialized systems of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand assign lower priorities and longer delays to elective (e.g., cosmetic) and non-emergency (e.g., hip replacement) surgery than to emergency (e.g., cardiac or cancer) surgery. The U.S. has the shortest average waiting time for elective and non-emergency surgery, but is merely in the middle of the Anglo-Saxon group for emergency surgery. The same for delay in seeing a specialist.

Goodman combines the two priorities, lowering the overall U.S. waiting time to first place, which allows him to claim it indicates the extra risk of death that government rationing imposes in emergency cases. He disregards that the U.S. is the most difficult of the Anglo-Saxon group in getting same-day doctor appointments; shares with Canada the most difficulty in getting treatment on nights and weekends; and that France, Germany, Japan and the Scandinavians have still shorter delays than the Anglo-Saxon group in almost all dimensions of waiting. Implication? Bureaucratic rationing is unavoidable in universal coverage government health programs, but longer waits are not.

Goodman’s data manipulation and his assumption that longer waits have deadly consequences imply that the U.S. should have longer life expectancy and a lower rate of infant mortality than the industrial countries with socialized medicine. But he doesn’t test that implication, enabling him to ignore that the U.S. has the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality rate of the industrialized democracies. Instead, he puzzles over why national health insurance seems so popular in these countries, concluding it’s because their citizenry, unaware that they pay by taxes, think they’re getting something for nothing.

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That last sentence touches on a great point — the idea, propagated by those who are against healthcare reform, that the citizens of other countries (ALL the other countries in the industrialized world, in fact) are so uninformed and naive that they think they’re “getting something for nothing.”

Well, has it occurred to anyone that maybe the rest of the world isn’t stupid?? Maybe, just maybe, they’re RIGHT.