Factoids piss me off: Health Care Special edition

Watching, post Red Sox, the ABC/President Obama town meeting on health care.  As they went to a commercial just now, up flashed this datum:  59% of Americans get health insurance through their employer, with a citation of the US Census Bureau 2007.

Two things give me heartburn.  First, no context means no meaning.  Seriously.

What does that number mean?  Anything?  41% of Americans are thus un or otherwise insured.  How does that compare with other nations? What impact does this breakdown have on our (comparatively poor) raw health care outcome statistics?  And so on.

Then there is the assumption that the category of employer-supplied health care is a sufficiently consistent phenomenon across employers to form a coherent group.  My employer health care is moderately expensive (I pay about 35-40% of cost of my HMO premium, compared to an individually -bought family policy, but I have considerable choice among plans and expense levels and access to just about anything the Boston medical community has to offer).  Other plans are much more limited, more expensive or both — and those distinctions are meaningful to determinative.

And even more, note the date: 2007, during a period of relative economic prosperity.  Anecdotally, I’ve been reading of all kinds of cuts in benefits, and when you have unemployment jumping from under 5 % in 2007 to 9.4% in the latest month for which there are statistics.

To put it another way:  the statistic posted in the break was not just meaningless, but almost certainly wrong.  Enough people have lost jobs,and enough businesses have had to cut benefits in the last two years so that the fraction of Americans receiving health care through employers is highly likely to be smaller than it was in 2007.

The use of that number therefore is at best useless – an isolated number whose import is undiscoverable– and at worst a false and overoptimistic claim for the robustness of the private medical care system.

I hate factoids.  I hate silly and thoughtless producers who use them as design details on the bumper screens in and out of program sections. This is the plague of news-as-entertainment.  This kind of text-used-as-graphic element is something you do as part of what’s called the packaging of a program.  It’s not meant to have meaning, but it’s terribly easy to get into trouble when you use text that does in fact hold, or appear to contain, some actual relevant information.

So, for all that I give ABC props for putting this program on despite Republican fauxrage, they have to learn how to avoid the reflexive tics of the business.

Image: Canaletto,  “Greenwich Hospital” 1752.

Explore posts in the same categories: media, Medicine, MSM nonsense

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