Liberals and the 'Average Life Expectancy' Lie

Promoted from the diaries by Jeff

Tell any pro-ObamaCare Democrat that socialized healthcare doesn’t work, and you are sure to receive the smug reply that “countries with a single-payer system have a higher life expectancy.”  Technically, that’s true.  But, as the saying goes, there are “lies, damned lies and statistics.”  The lie in this particular set of stats is indeed not in the stats themselves, but in the inference you are asked to draw from them.  You are told, for example, that Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom rate higher in life expectancy than the U.S. because of their public healthcare systems.

You’re asked to believe that all this happens in a vaccuum.  That the only — or at least largest — factor in life expectancy is the mode and quality of health insurance.  But that isn’t the case.  The Life Expectancy figure is based upon an average of death ages from any cause; and that includes non-medical causes.

But you are asked to ignore other, non-medical causes of death.  Causes like violent crime, household accidents, car accidents, etc.  These are numbers which should not be ignored in this discussion; if average age of death is seen as important to the issue of healthcare, certainly the circumstances surrounding those deaths, and whether a single-payer system would actually effect those rates, are equally important.

For example, let’s compare car accident fatalities.  Comparing the United States to the U.K. and Canada (since, after all, they have higher life expectancies), we see that per capita fatalities are dramatically higher in this country:

For 2002
United States: 14.9
Canada:  9.3
United Kingdom:  6.1

Would you say that this has nothing at all to do with the disparity in life expectancies?  In the United States in 1996, the per capita deaths by car accident for people aged 0-74 is 127.5, versus 58.4 for those aged 75 and older.  Surely, even this one set of statistics has a role in the national mortality rate.  And what about murder rates?  According to NationMaster.com, the three countries rank in murders per capita thus:

24. United States with 0.042802 per thousand people
44. Canada with 0.0149063 per 1,000 people 
46. United Kingdom with 0.0140633 per 1,000 people 

Those are two examples.  My point is not that these two sets of statistics themselves explain the difference of death rates between the United States and these other countries.  The point is that clearly, there are other factors to consider here.

Finally, the CDC has charts available, which I’ve been using above, of mortality by age, for various causes.  Under “Death Rates for All Causes,” we see that over 15,000 people per capita die from the age of 85 and up.  Other numbers which should be taken into account are the Population age structures, which can be found at the CIA website (the US and UK both have about 67% of the population falling within the 15-64 range, while the US has a higher percentage of children than the UK (20% versus 17%).  This difference is reflected in the percentage of elderly in each country.

So that’s a large number of statistics, but what’s the point?  Mostly, the point is, statistics can tell you whatever I want them to tell you.  I could tell you that the population of younger children in the US being higher than that in the UK is indicative of the quality of natal or pediatric care in the two countries.  It may or may not be true, but I’m quite certain I could dig up more statistics to back this up.  Likewise, you could probably dig up plenty of stats to prove me wrong. 

You simply cannot view a single statistic, like life expectancy, and expect that it makes the point.  In this case, it simply does not.  Life expectancy, as I said above, tells you nothing at all, other than the average age at which people die.  There are too many other mitigating factors for this single statistic to be used as any sort of indicator of the quality of the health programs of these countries.  Especially because the ages in question are so close (within a couple years between the countries).

Liberals who attempt to tell you that average life expectancy in any way negates your arguments about the quality of care in single-payer countries are either outright lying, or simply don’t understand how statistics work.