It is common for advocates of government-run health care to quote WHO statistics in order to document the alleged inferiority of American health care. A perennial favorite purports to show that the U.S. barely edges out Cuba in some categories.

I have pointed out before that the WHO makes no attempt to verify the health care statistics it receives. Well, here’s an op-ed by a Cuban physician that should make it abundantly clear why government apparatchiks should not be taken at their word: 

I witnessed how medical directors, high-ranking administrators and heads of departments manipulated statistics using deceptive formulas to adjust data in order to reach goals imposed by “El Commandante” Fidel Castro. 

This kind of statistical subterfuge should come as no surprise to students of history. In the Soviet Union, the statistics reported to the central authorities were right on target even as the wheels were coming off the system.

It is in the nature of centrally-controlled bureaucracies, even under regimes considerably less oppressive than those of Cuba and Russia, to produce bogus statistics. All of the incentives push in that direction.

It is not, however, incumbent upon us to accept them like credulous children. Nor should we allow bogus stats to be used as a justification for imposing government-run health care on the United States.

[via Kevin, MD] 

Comments 9

  1. Jamelle wrote:

    Are you real? I mean seriously. It’s one thing to argue against single-payer, it’s an entirely different thing to use a single anecdote as a means to rail against a system of health care that is used in dozens of countries.

    Posted 27 Aug 2007 at 10:47 pm
  2. Marc Brown wrote:

    Yes, and the doc in question left Cuba 20 years ago. I don’t think anyone has ever said anything other that for a very poor country Cuba punches well above its weight in healthcare, and in provision such as primary and preventive care it has much to tell us. Undoubtedly the whole country has struggled under the petty US trade embargo. Costa Rica is also a good example. And of course many people – including Americans now to Cuba – go to countries like these as medical tourists.

    Posted 28 Aug 2007 at 7:13 am
  3. Catron wrote:

    Jamelle/Marc … I guess it’s too much for you guys to do your homework on the actual state of Cuba and its health care system. But your comments suggest that you should at least look up the definition of “useful idiot.”

    Posted 28 Aug 2007 at 8:04 am
  4. Marc Brown wrote:

    A few Cuba facts

    Source: UNICEF

    Literacy Before & After The Revolution
    1952 54%
    2005 100%

    Life Expectancy Before & After The Revolution
    1950 55.8 years
    2006 78 years

    Infant Mortality* Before & After The Revolution
    1958 60
    2004 5.8
    * The number of deaths of infants under one year old in a given year per 1,000 live births in the same year.

    Before 1959 the second largest island in the Cuban archipelago Isle Of Pines had a population of approximately 20000 and zero doctors, today there is a doctor for every 160 people.

    Posted 28 Aug 2007 at 9:10 am
  5. Catron wrote:

    Please don’t tell me you actually believe these numbers.

    Posted 28 Aug 2007 at 12:42 pm
  6. Question wrote:

    Question to Catron:

    If you got lung cancer do you feel you could pay for all the treatments necessary?

    I mean are you so confident in the current system and your financial resources that you think you could pay for it all?

    Posted 28 Aug 2007 at 9:31 pm
  7. Catron wrote:

    Yep and yep.

    Posted 29 Aug 2007 at 10:59 am
  8. C M Hughes, MD wrote:

    Good for you. F*** everybody else, though, right?

    “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
    - John Kenneth Galbraith.

    Posted 08 Oct 2007 at 7:08 pm
  9. brandon wrote:


    1-You simply cannot refute the numbers without offering evidence or an alternative. I’m not saying I take the Cuban government entirely for its word, but they obviously have at least something going for them that doesn’t require the WHO or UNICEF or other international bodies to probe deeper.

    2-What about these numbers: 47 million uninsured Americans, 16 million uninsured children, 37th ranked healthcare system in the world with highest, i.e. #1, per capita and GDP expenditure? (p.s. that #1 isn’t a good thing)

    Rather than concern ourselves with the “BS” of the Cuban healthcare system, why don’t we worry about the actual faults in existence in our system? Ever-increasing costs, more and more uninsured, and arguably the lowest health outcome indicators (infant mortality, lifespan, QALY adjusted life span) of the modernized world?

    Posted 06 May 2008 at 7:02 pm

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