Accuracy in Media

In a piece published Friday, BuzzFeed alleges that the United States is the only developed country in the world without universal health care. This isn’t true in the slightest and is a political statement meant to encourage support for single-payer government-only health care in America.

Here is what BuzzFeed actually says: “The United States is the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t provide universal healthcare” and their source is an article from Vox that doesn’t even say that. What Vox does say is that other countries think it a good idea that everyone gain access to health care and they strive to make that true.

But then, at one level, the U.S. does do that. Arrive at an emergency room and gain treatment. That isn’t, of course, what they mean. But examination of those health care systems of other countries shows that either the U.S. does provide universal health care, or those other countries don’t, either.

For example, in America, if you are not covered by Medicaid, Medicare, or employer-paid insurance, then you are supposed, by law, to go buy insurance on the exchanges. That’s approximately the same system used in Germany, Switzerland and Holland. You must buy private-sector health care insurance or you are breaking the law.

There are other systems. France runs it through employment taxes (similar to FICA) but that still leaves the patient open to a 15% copay with no upper limit for near all treatments except cancer. Or Singapore has health care savings accounts and then catastrophic insurance paid for by the government itself. Or Britain has the National Health Service where treatments are all free at the point of use and tax paid. But NHS dentistry and vision services are, these days, almost only accessible by children, adults need to enter the private sector.

BuzzFeed gives 17 examples of stories that would be different under that universal health care. At least four of them are dental and vision which wouldn’t in fact be different under the British system.

There is no definition of “universal health care” which would exclude the United States but also include all other developed countries. Nor is there any useful description of universal health care that would include all other developed country systems but not include the United States.

This matters because BuzzFeed is influential. One in two internet users between 18 and 34 in the U.S. engage with BuzzFeed on a monthly basis. Millennials actually believe this stuff.

It’s entirely true that improvements could be made to the U.S. health care system. It’s also possible to think of changes that would make it worse. That means there needs to be clarity and accuracy in how the current system is described. Rather than what Buzzfeed is telling people here, that all the foreigners have this lovely thing and only Americans don’t.

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