CounterFactual Kelly Boggs [Addendum]
The President offered no evidence to support his claim that dollar-drunk docs are performing all manner of unnecessary medical procedures. There were no statistics supporting his claim that patients are mere prey for money-grubbing physicians; not even an anecdote was offered.
Thus Boggs implied that no such statistics and anecdotes were readily available.
Before implying that the president was misleading us, Boggs had a journalistic obligation to look for statistics and anecdotes. Failure to do so is, among professional journalists, a form of disregard for the truth.
Looking just a little would have showed Boggs that his argument was not exactly right.
The Congressional Budget office estimates 16% of the Gross Domestic Product — about $700 billion a year — “goes to healthcare spending that can’t be shown to improve health outcomes.”
One readily discovered anecdote is Consumer Reports’ account of Ron Spurgeon’s unnecessary cardiac bypass surgery at Redding Medical Center in northern California. Spurgeon “and 344 others sued the hospital and eight cardiologists and surgeons for performing unnecessary procedures. The defendants ultimately paid $442 million to settle the suit.”
Neither the CBO numberss nor the availability of anecdotes should surprise anyone.
The problem to which Obama alluded is so commonplace that CBS had on June 10 ran a consumer-information feature warning that as many as 40% of all medical procedures are unnecessary and explaining how consumers can protect themselves.
But Boggs was in a hurry. The reality or lack thereof of greedy doctors wasn’t his primary concern. Abortion was. Having castigated Obama for lack of statistics and anecdotes, Boggs wrote:
But let’s assume for the sake of argument the president is correct and mercenary medicine is indeed out of control in America. The one area he needs to set his sights on cleaning up first is those physicians who perform abortions.
Boggs argues that “85 to 90 percent, and more, of all abortions are carried out as a result of convenience” and fuel “a lucrative industry.” Apparently to illustrate how lucrative, he wrote:
Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider, rakes in more than a billion dollars every year. And while PP is the largest peddler of elective abortions, it is by no means the only one. Needless to say, there is a lot of money available to greedy doctors willing to perform an unnecessary medical procedure.
It is true Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit corporation with a total budget of about $1 billion a year.
Yet as Wikipedia makes clear, Planned Parenthood’s budget isn’t the result of “raking in” abortion profits:
In 2007, contraception constituted 36% of total services, STI/STD testing and treatment constituted 31%, cancer testing and screening constituted 17%; other women’s health services, including pregnancy, prenatal, midlife, and infertility were 11%, and approximately 3% of total services involved surgical and medical abortions.
. . .
Planned Parenthood receives about a third of its money in government grants and contracts ($349.6 million in FY 2008). In the 2007–08 Annual Report, clinic income totaled $374.7 million and miscellaneous operating revenues $68.9 million. Planned Parenthood is also heavily sponsored by private individuals, with over 700,000 active individual contributors [.pdf] Large donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contribute a substantial part of the organization’s budget.
Undeterred by reality, Boggs charges on to his central point:
So, if President Obama is really serious about reforming health care by reducing the number of medically unnecessary procedures he will certainly call for the end of elective abortions, right?
That’s the first in a series of rhetorical questions with which Boggs hectors his readers. It’s rhetorical because Obama’s pro-choice views are well-known.
Boggs’ questions do bring us to his concluding erroneous argument — that health reform will use government funds to pay for abortion. His proof is an Aug. 5 news story:
In fact, the Associated Press recently reported, “Health care legislation before Congress would allow a new government-sponsored insurance plan to cover abortions…”
The ellipses are his, BTW, and the AP story is not exactly the final word .
On August 7 PolitiFact.com examined the same issue. It did so by way of evaluating a claim by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) that “The Democrat-backed health care reform plan “will require (Americans) to subsidize abortion with their hard-earned tax dollars.”
After exploring the matter in detail, PolitiFact concluded that “things could change as the health reform package works its way through Congress, but for now, we don’t see anything to support Boehner’s claim that taxpayers would subsidize abortions. And so we rule his statement False.”
Also not exactly right is Boggs’ conclusion that “If the president has his way, not only will medically unnecessary, elective abortion on demand continue unabated in America, it will be underwritten by the government and will likely only increase.”
The three wrote in rebuttal to a Baptist Press article, which they argue misportrayed the recently introduced Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act (H.R. 3312, referred to as the Ryan-DeLauro Bill).
Gushee, Hunter and Sider aren’t counterfactual. They don’t hector their readers with rhetorical questions. They do conclude:
Common-ground efforts to reduce abortion by addressing the circumstances that lead to it are consistent with the conviction that all life — the unborn, pregnant women, infants and children — is sacred. Honest dialogue about this innovative approach is imperative for those of us who aspire to protect life in concrete ways.
Plainly misrepresenting the content of the Ryan-DeLauro bill, and asserting in defiance of logic and evidence that it will increase rather than reduce abortion, does nothing to protect life. In fact, it does the opposite.
Addendum: Another anecdote
CounterFactual Boggs was so distressed at President Obama’s failure to offer anecdotes at his July 22 news conference that we’re adding another to the one already provided.
Adam Linker writes of a “physician who visited the emergency room when he came down with shingles. The doc, who teaches at Stony Brook University, got caught in a maze of over testing and ran up an unnecessary $9,000 bill.” The physician’s tale of expensive, time and money wasting, medically unproductive woe concludes:
One thing’s for sure: I’ve lost the smugness and condescension I often felt when listening to others’ stories about being trapped by the system and manipulated into excessively complex and specialized medical situations. Unlike most of my patients, I actually knew what my diagnosis was and what to do about it, but I learned how difficult it is to remain objective when you’re feeling very sick. Maybe I should have been more assertive. Instead, I wound up as a poster boy for excessive medicine. I understand now how all those people could have been so gullible, so easily manipulated by the system. Now that I’m one of them, that is.
Boggs and others may read Linker’s entire post here.
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