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Basic Facts: They're Important

Last night I noted, with regard to Jonah Goldberg's erroneous beliefs that the stimulus did not include tax cuts and that liberals did not complain about its size at the time of its passage, that it's very frustrating to debate public policy with people who are unaware of the basic facts. The problem seems to be especially acute on health care, an issue conservatives have just never paid much attention to. Thus an enormous swath of right-wing commentary is based on simple factual misunderstandings. In today's Washington Post, Martin Feldstein spews out a lot of GOP talking points on health care, capped off by this gem:

Obama has said that he would favor a British-style "single payer" system in which the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are salaried but that he recognizes that such a shift would be too disruptive to the health-care industry.

Obama has never said that he favors a British-style health care system. Britain does not have a single-payer system. It has a socialized system, where the government directly employs all health care providers. Indeed, if you follow the link in Feldstein's own column, it says, "A single-payer system would eliminate private insurance companies and put a Medicare-like system into place where the government pays all health-care bills with tax dollars." Does Medicare own hospitals and pay doctors government salaries? No. Professor Feldstein, please stop writing about topics you know nothing about.

Meanwhile, working our way down the conservative intellectual food chain, we see Bill Kristol spouting a series of demonstrably false claims. Take it away, Ezra Klein:

"One reason the price of health care is going up so fast is because of government programs," says Kristol. "The price of Medicare and Medicaid have gone up faster than private insurance. That's well-documented."

It is true that the growth rates of Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance are well-documented. But the documentation shows the opposite of what Bill Kristol says it shows. The price of Medicare and Medicaid have gone up much more slowly than private insurance. Take Medicare:

That doesn't require much explanation. Suffice to say, the growth in per-person spending for Medicare has been significantly slower than private health insurance over the past 20 years, and its advantage has widened in recent years. But wait, you say. Kristol mentioned both Medicare and Medicaid. Maybe he just meant Medicaid? Nope!

Bill Kristol, who writes frequently about health care and advises the Republican Party about how to vote on bills, is misinformed on the basic facts of the situation. And even his misinformation isn't terribly coherent: Later in the interview, he says that the Army health-care system -- which is fully socialized -- is the best health-care system we've got, and the reason we can't give it to all Americans is that it's too expensive. Socialized medicine, in other words, works. The rest of us just don't deserve it.

And finally, we have Bill O'Reilly explaining why Canada has longer life expectancy than the United States despite living in a hellish single payer dystopia where patients who need a simple X-ray are made to wait for 17 years and then cast out on an ice floe to die of hypothermia or be mauled to death by polar bears. O'Reilly argues that the U.S. naturally has a shorter life expectancy than Canada because we have ten times more people. That means ten times as many accidents, crimes, and what have you:

Look, O'Reilly is a really dumb guy, and it's hard for him to say something dumb enough to clear the bar of being worth paying attention to. But this was pretty shockingly dumb even by Bill O'Reilly's standards.

--Jonathan Chait