I wish this were about Star Trek. If that were out on DVD it would be my happy place. Instead it's about everyone's favorite topic of late: healthcare. Yep. Another one. This one is slightly less ranty, though I do discuss slippery slope arguments toward the end.

One of the arguments I keep seeing about healthcare (James Carville made this argument in a brief television debate with Anne Coulter) is that countries with more government intervention in their healthcare systems have people with longer life expectancies than the U.S.

What really bothers me about this argument as support for a healthcare overhaul is the logical fallacy that it espouses. It is being used to indicate that the government control/interference in these healthcare systems is the reason that people in these countries are living longer lives.

This argument fails to take into account various other factors, not the least of which is that Americans tend to live more unhealthy lifestyles than the citizens of the nations with more government intervention in their healthcare. I'm surprised this point is not being made more often in the healthcare debate--it has certainly been a popular news topic over the past few years, often focusing on the expanding waistlines of the American people.

The facts of the matter are these: the United States has a much higher obesity rate in adults and children than any of the nations being cited as having longer lifespans. Common diseases related to obesity include heart disease and diabetes, both of which tend to cause shorter lifespans. As more Americans grow fatter, more Americans suffer the diseases and problems that are caused by obesity. As more Americans suffer those problems, more Americans need to be treated for those problems, which also leads to higher healthcare costs.

Prior to the current healthcare debate, figures about obesity were frequently cited in conjunction with concerns about rising healthcare costs for people in the nation. These legitimate concerns seem to have been lost in the arguments, however, probably because they do not necessarily affect the arguments for or against government overhaul of healthcare.

Another factor that is ignored by the broad numbers is that those numbers are affected by all deaths, not just natural deaths by old age or sickness. One area where this could cause a significant discrepancy is death by car accident. The U.S. has an extraordinary number of motor vehicles on its highways. It also has an extraordinarily high number of car-accident deaths. While I'm having difficulty tracking down exact numbers, I think it's arguable that the U.S. has far more car-accident deaths per capita than any of the healthcare systems being cited as examples of how government intervention creates a longer lifespan.

I will grant that there is one area in which government intervention might help to create longer lifespans: broader insurance coverage. It is difficult to argue that broader coverage would not mean more lives saved and, possibly, a slightly longer lifespan average nationally. However, even that is not a guarantee, nor do I foresee it making the number jump from where it lingers at 73ish up to the 80 and 81 some of those other nations boast. American numbers won't get that high until Americans become healthier as a people, and simply expanding healthcare coverage is not going to make that happen. Americans will have to fundamentally change the way we eat and exercise if we want to live longer lives. And I don't think anyone wants the government to go that far in regulating healthcare.

ETA: The title. Now the first line might make more sense. Bah!
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