Paul Krugman steps up to defend Hillarity's thematically defensible but factually challenged health care parable. One might have guessed that since Hillary took flak for getting the facts wrong, Krugman would take care to get the facts right. Guess again:
Not long ago, a young Ohio woman named Trina Bachtel, who was having health problems while pregnant, tried to get help at a local clinic.
No - Ms. Bachtel never contacted the nearby clinic. Following a collection effort regarding unpaid bills from 2002 (eventually settled in 2005) the clinic had informed her by mail that she would need to pay $100 cash upfront if she sought treatment there.
Unfortunately, she had previously sought care at the same clinic while uninsured and had a large unpaid balance. The clinic wouldn’t see her again unless she paid $100 per visit — which she didn’t have.
Half true - per the WaPo, the debt had been "repaid in 2005".
Eventually, she sought care at a hospital 30 miles away. By then, however, it was too late. Both she and the baby died.
Well, she initially sought care at the hospital affiliated with her obstetrician's practice; this is from the Columbus Dispatch:
In 2005, she joined the O'Bleness Health System in Athens, according to Linda Weiss, a spokeswoman for O'Bleness.
During her pregnancy in 2007, Bachtel was under the care of River Rose Obstetrics and Gynecology, which is part of the O'Bleness system and across the parking lot from O'Bleness' hospital in Athens.
According to Jane Broecker, an obstetrician at River Rose, Bachtel made 14 visits between Feb. 8 and July 31. "She came regularly for appointments," Broecker said.
In addition, records made available by O'Bleness show that Bachtel visited the hospital seven times in 2007 on an outpatient basis. Six of those visits took place on the same day she had been at River Rose.
On Aug. 1, Bachtel was admitted to O'Bleness, where her baby boy was stillborn. Two days later, she was transferred to Riverside Hospital in Columbus and finally to Ohio State University Medical Center, where she died Aug. 15.
That information scuttles the rest of Krugman's re-telling and the message he takes from it:
First of all, visits to the emergency room are no substitute for regular care, which can identify and treat health problems before they get acute. And more than 40 percent of uninsured adults have no regular source of care.
Second, uninsured Americans often postpone medical care, even when they know they need it, because of expense.
True and worth discussing, but Ms. Bachtel had insurance and was receiving regular care.
The end result is that the uninsured receive a lot less care than the insured. And sometimes this lack of care kills them. According to a recent estimate by the Urban Institute, the lack of health insurance leads to 27,000 preventable deaths in America each year.
But are they really preventable? Yes. Stories like those of Trina Bachtel and Monique White are common in America, but don’t happen in any other rich country — because every other advanced nation has some form of universal health insurance. We should, too.
Stories like Tina Bachtel - a woman who had insurance, received regular care, but died anyway - don't happen in any other rich country? Do tell.
Krugman explains the lesson of our shameful media behavior:
Some readers may already have recognized the story of Trina Bachtel. While campaigning in Ohio, Hillary Clinton was told this story, and she took to repeating it, without naming the victim, on the campaign trail. She used it as an illustration of what’s wrong with American health care and why we need universal coverage.
Then The Washington Post identified Ms. Bachtel, the hospital where she died claimed that the story was false [in the NY Times, a factoid oddly omitted by Krugman] — and the news media went to town, accusing Mrs. Clinton of making stuff up. Instead of being a story about health care, it became a story about the candidate’s supposed problems with the truth.
In fact, Mrs. Clinton was accurately repeating the story as it was told to her — and it turns out that while some of the details were slightly off, the essentials of her story were correct. After all the fuss, The Washington Post eventually conceded that “Bachtel’s medical tragedy began with circumstances very close to the essence” of Mrs. Clinton’s account.
Well, it was not the Washington Post that conceded that “Bachtel’s medical tragedy began with circumstances very close to the essence” - that was the AP. (Geez, someone ought to mention to these academics the importance of accurate citations.) And the AP version excerpted below differs from both the WaPo and the Columbus Dispatch:
But at an earlier time, Casto said, Bachtel lacked health insurance and ran up unpaid bills when treated at a clinic near her home in Middleport. When she returned for treatment when pregnant, the clinic demanded $100 per visit to help retire the outstanding debt, Casto said. Because Bachtel could not afford the fees and found it difficult to travel, her aunt said, she postponed receiving treatment.
Bachtel eventually went to O'Bleness, about 30 miles to the north, for attention.
Reason with me - if, as per the Dispatch, Ms. Bachtel had insurance and was routinely going to O'Bleness to see her obstetrician, and routinely crossing the street to stop in the hospital, why would she have gone to the clinic? I am backing the WaPo version, which says she never even contacted the clinic, figuring that their door was closed and that she had her own health care provider anyway. The AP is wrong here; back to Krugman:
And even more important, Mrs. Clinton was making a valid point about the state of health care in this country.
As previously noted, I offered the "thematically accurate" defense a few days back (and even mentioned Reagan, as did the Dispatch). But my goodness, that defense applies to candidates slogging along the long, dusty campaign trail, not columnists with access to Google and Lexis-Nexis. Dare we expect Krugman or his editors (as if!) to intersect intermittently with reality?
Krugman delivers in his Big Finish:
And if being a progressive means anything, it means believing that we need universal health care, so that terrible stories like those of Monique White, Trina Bachtel and the thousands of other Americans who die each year from lack of insurance become a thing of the past.
Well, I suppose the terrible stories won't become a thing of the past if people keep making them up. Well, that's Paul Krugman - reality based. Just like fruit drinks based on 10% real fruit juice.
DISPUTE RESOLUTION: Krugman claims that Ms. Bachtel is a story of a woman without insurance. The Times reported this last Friday:
But hospital administrators said Friday that Ms. Bachtel was under the care of an obstetrics practice affiliated with the hospital, that she was never refused treatment and that she was, in fact, insured.
Can't both be right! Clark Hoyt, the public editor, lives to duck questions like this, but a real paper would run a correction somewhere. Vex him at "email@example.com".