Fear of Foreigners

Kevin Drum returns us to this classic of the health care debate:

I don’t think anyone has ever tried to suggest that American health care is somehow “twice as good” as European health care. Better at some things, maybe, sure. But the evidence is that our results are actually worse than what the French get at half price. The evidence is that the Swiss do about the same as we do at a fraction of the cost, except in Switzerland there are no medical bankruptcies and nobody can’t get treatment because they’re too poor. And so on and so forth.

But these facts about foreign models are staples of random blog posts, but they’re almost never mentioned in the official political debate. And I wonder why. The conventional wisdom, as expressed in this Third Way strategy memo, is that talking about foreigners is for losers: “Don’t compare the U.S. to other countries, or assert that America does not provide quality health care. (i.e. Do not cite statistics that say the U.S. is 37th in the world in health outcomes).”

They don’t, however, share with us the research on which this is based. Is there really research showing that Americans are such knee-jerk nationalists that they’ll just tune out evidence from abroad that it’s possible to do things differently and better? I suppose that’s possible. But it’s hardly going to be possible to hide from voters the fact that other countries have national health care systems. So naturally voters will wonder if such systems produce better or worse results than ours. And naturally opponents of creating a national health care system will claim that things are worse abroad. So I don’t see how failing to mention that results are actually better in other countries actually lets you avoid the argument. It seems to me to just avoid having a chance at winning it.