Maybe the Government Just Shouldn’t Ask People if They’re Uninsured



Sir John Cowperthwaite was the Financial Secretary of the British Colony of Hong Kong when it began to boom in the 1960s:

Asked what is the key thing poor countries should do, Cowperthwaite once remarked: “They should abolish the Office of National Statistics.” In Hong Kong, he refused to collect all but the most superficial statistics, believing that statistics were dangerous: they would led the state to to fiddle about remedying perceived ills, simultaneously hindering the ability of the market economy to work. This caused consternation in Whitehall: a delegation of civil servants were sent to Hong Kong to find out why employment statistics were not being collected; Cowperthwaite literally sent them home on the next plane back. (Alex Singleton, The Guardian)

What does this have to do with health insurance? The Wall Street Journal’s Jo Craven McGinty reports on the Census Bureau’s rejigging of its measurement of how many Americans are without health insurance:

Sometimes, fixing one statistical problem creates a new one.

For years, the Current Population Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau overestimated the number of people without health insurance. Last year, the Census Bureau revised the survey to correct the error, which was likely caused by the way the government asked Americans about their coverage.

Part of the problem was the CPS intended to count people as uninsured only if they were without health insurance for an entire calendar year, while other surveys generally measure coverage at the time of the interview.

The more stringent standard should produce a lower estimate. Instead, the CPS estimates were often somewhat higher than other surveys, causing researchers to suspect the numbers were wrong, probably because some respondents answered incorrectly.

Who wouldn’t be confused, answering a question about our fragmented, government-heavy, health insurance. There is a big difference between being uninsured for one week and being uninsured for one year, but the surveys have bigger problems. Most importantly, they include Medicaid—a welfare program—as health insurance.

Government’s relentless obsession with mandating that everyone has health insurance, instead of protecting our liberty to acquire health goods and services of our own informed choice, has led to much mischief.

I expect that if Sir John Cowperthwaite were alive to advise Americans which statistics our government should be forbidden from collecting and analyzing, he might start with health insurance.

* * *

For the pivotal alternative to Obamacare, please see the Independent Institute’s new book, A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, by John C. Goodman.

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