Giuliani's dose of fear

A Times Editorial
Published November 3, 2007

Rudy Giuliani caught his prostate cancer early and survived, a joyous personal triumph he has managed to cheapen in the clatter of presidential health-care politics. His new commercial rant about the comparative cancer survival rates with European "socialized medicine" would be tacky even if his facts were right. They aren't, and his campaign's refusal to correct them tends to demonstrate how little of substance the former New York City mayor is offering voters on the issue.

"The bottom line is, the mayor is illustrating a point that you are essentially better off in the U.S. system than the European system," said campaign spokesman Elliott Bundy. "You are better off in a system of competition and choice rather than a government-mandated health care system."

Who is better off? The mayor of New York City is probably well off in any health-care system. But in Florida, where Giuliani still leads in the polls among Republicans, the State Health Insurance Advisory Board reported Monday that one in every four people had no health insurance last year. That number has increased 38 percent in just eight years.

The total number of the uninsured is only part of the growing health-care puzzle, though. In Florida, the number of people who are covered through their workplace has continued to plummet. Last year, according to a new Economic Policy Institute survey, only 50 percent of workers were insured by their employer - ranking the state 46th in the nation.

The distortions about European medicine may make for entertaining campaign rhetoric, but they offer nothing to the 47-million Americans who have no insurance and are typically turned away from doctors' offices. As a new survey in Health Affairs reports, although the U.S. spends twice as much on health care per capita as other industrialized nations, adults here have less access to doctors and are more likely to skip medicines.

Giuliani is so busy campaigning against "universal" or "government" health care he has yet to acknowledge that two Republican governors have introduced the concepts in their own states and that the federal Medicare program is both government-run and universal for elderly citizens.

Help for the nation's health care crisis will likely involve a mixture of public and private strategies, but Giuliani seems unimpressed by the complexities. His exaggerated comparison of cancer survival rates suggests he is trying to bring to health care what 9/11 represents for his national security agenda. He is injecting a little fear. That tactic exploits cancer, which is apparently not beneath a survivor with presidential aspirations.