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Dartmouth’s Misleading Health Data

The intersection of academia and government is one in which the interests of elites can collide with our own well-being.  “President Barack Obama’s former budget director, Peter Orszag, told reporters in June 2009 that the president’s plan to cut future Medicare funding would not be dangerous,” Betsy McCaughey [1] wrote in The Wall Street Journal on November 1, 2011. “He said that spending could be lowered by about 30%, to approximate what is spent in the lowest-cost regions of the country, without doing harm.”

“Mr. Orszag cited the Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare 2008, which tried to prove that Medicare patients who got less care (fewer hospital days, doctor visits and imaging tests) had the same outcomes as patients who received more care. But the Dartmouth investigators had pulled the same trick as the Lancet investigators: They examined only the records of patients who died. By definition, such patients—regardless of their level of care—ended up the same: dead.”

“Statewide studies in California and Pennsylvania have proven the opposite of what the Obama administration claims. They show that Medicare patients treated in hospitals that provide lower-intensity, lower-cost care have a higher risk of dying.”

“The California study, published in February in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found higher death rates from pneumonia, congestive heart failure, stroke, gastrointestinal hemorrhage and hip fractures at low-spending hospitals. The study’s authors calculated that 13,813 California patients treated for these conditions between 2004 and 2008 would have survived had they been treated at higher-spending hospitals rather than low-spending ones.”

“The Pennsylvania study produced similar results, showing higher survival rates at higher-spending hospitals.” Ms. McCaughey is the former lieutenant governor of New York.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia [2].

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org [3]