Saturday, March 8, 2014

Comparing apples to oranges

Jonathan Sher, a Sun Media investigative reporter working for the chain's London, Ontario, newspaper has filed another story in a series examining health care in Ontario: Health ministry data on hospital overcrowding riddled with errors. From the tone of Sher's past articles and the frequent positive references he has made to the American health care system, one might surmise Sher is no fan of Canadian single-payer health care.

Sher, who may have been born an American citizen, is one bright fellow. After graduating from the University of Virginia with a B.A in history and foreign affairs he went on to earn his Doctor of Law from the University of Southern California in 1992. It has been reported he is a member of the New York State bar association. With his strong background in law, Sher knows how to build a strong argument.

I believe it is safe to say that when Sher slides an apples and oranges comparison into a story he does so knowing full well what he is doing.
Sher tells Sun Media readers:

Ontario has 2.4 hospital beds for every 1,000 residents, less than half the European average. Of 39 countries compared by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, only three had fewer hospital beds: Mexico, India and Indonesia. 

This is not the first time that Sher has compared a Canadian province with the entire continent of Europe. He goes on to compare Ontario with 39 countries in an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development list. I addressed this debating trick in an earlier post: Hospitals too full to be safe? Not in London, Ontario.

As I wrote in the earlier post:

Let's try comparing apples to apples: countries to countries. According to the most recent numbers released by The World Bank, Canada has 3.2 beds per 1000 people. Both The United States and Britain have a smidgen less at 3.0 beds per 1000. Sweden fared even worse with only 2.7 beds.

According to the newspaper article, Ontario has only 2.4 hospital beds per 1000. It sounds bad and it is bad but Ontario cannot lay claim to the worst numbers on the continent. For lower numbers look south. Ontario has more beds than almost 40% of the American states according to The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Oregon only has 1.8 beds per 1000 and California, Hawaii and Vermont have numbers that are little better.

Kudos to Sher for discovering that the overcrowding data compiled by the province had serious errors. Good work. (Here is a second link to the story.)

Overcrowding of hospitals is a serious global problem and not unique to Ontario. Many industrialized countries do attempt to keep occupancy rates at or below 85 percent, just as Sher claims. And many, many hospitals throughout the industrialized world fail at the attempt.

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