Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Politicians are more prone than most to abusing numbers, often in the same ways I complain about in mainstream science reporting. Nader does that this week in Slate's Breakfast Table.

Nader: 10 percent of health-care costs goes down the drain due to billing fraud and abuse. This year, 10 percent will amount to about $130 billion dollars.

$130 billion sounds like a lot, huh? But the number abuse here is in presenting private medicine abuse costs alone, without comparing to public abuse costs for a program like Medicare. Improper payment costs for Medicare range from 7% in 1998 to 14% in 1996 (ref), and this doesn't count the fraud prevention costs (1143 employees plus 375 FBI agents, ref). Thus, Nader's fraud issue is even worse than irrelevant -- fraud is likely to be more expensive in the public system than the private.

Most of the discussion of the increased costs of fraud and abuse in health services can be found in extreme right wing or libertarian diatribes (see here, here and here). It's too bad that the discussion is so marginalized, because I realize I can't rant about Nader without sounding like I'm on the other end of the spectrum completely. I could support socialized medicine but not for the reasons given by Nader.

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