Steve Benen observes a curious exchange at the Senate Finance Committee:
“Are you aware that if you take out gun accidents and auto accidents, that the United States actually is better than those other countries?” Ensign said. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) had been citing the health care systems of France, Germany, Japan and Canada as more effective, but with lower costs.
Conrad responded that one can bend statistics in all sorts of ways.
“But that doesn’t have anything to do with health care. Auto accidents don’t have anything to do with h–,” Ensign said, cutting himself off. “I mean we’re just a much more mobile society. … We drive our cars a lot more, they do public transportation. So you have to compare health care system with health care system.”
What Ensign is saying here—that gun accidents and car accidents fully account for the life expectancy gap between the US and other countries—isn’t true. But the more modest claim that lifestyle factors play a larger role than health care in determining health outcomes is true. That said, it seems like the reasonable thing to conclude from the charitable reading of Ensign’s argument is that we ought to reform American transportation policy to take advantage of the public health benefits of a more European-style approach. But Ensign doesn’t see it that way. He’s never done anything to help move the country to a less car-dependent way of life. Even though his estimate of the public health benefits of such a switch is much larger than my estimate!
It’s very strange. Unless you think Ensign has just dredged this argument up opportunistically for the sake of a one-off political fight and he neither knows anything about the subject nor cares at all.