Any time one goes on a liberal radio show to discuss health reform the World Health Report 2000 almost always comes up. “Why did the United States, with all its wealth, only rank 37th out of the world’s 191 nations?” the host always asks.

Well, now Commentary magazine reveals why the U.S. had such a low rank. The faux statistic was frequently cited by advocates of Obamacare. President Obama relied on it as a candidate. Commentary reports:

In fact, World Health Report 2000 was an intellectual fraud of historic consequence-a profoundly deceptive document that is only marginally a measure of health-care performance at all. The report’s true achievement was to rank countries according to their alignment with a specific political and economic ideal-socialized medicine-and then claim it was an objective measure of “quality.”

The methodology was, to say the least, flawed:

WHO researchers divided aspects of health care into subjective categories and tailored the definitions to suit their political aims. They allowed fundamental flaws in methodology, large margins of error in data, and overt bias in data analysis, and then offered conclusions despite enormous gaps in the data they did have. The flaws in the report’s approach, flaws that thoroughly undermine the legitimacy of the WHO rankings, have been repeatedly exposed in peer-reviewed literature by academic experts who have examined the study in detail. Their analysis made clear that the study’s failings were plain from the outset and remain patently obvious today; but they went unnoticed, unmentioned, and unexamined by many because World Health Report 2000 was so politically useful. This object lesson in the ideological misuse of politicized statistics should serve as a cautionary tale for all policymakers and all lay people who are inclined to accept on faith the results reported in studies by prestigious international bodies.

Before WHO released the study, it was commonly accepted that health care in countries with socialized medicine was problematic. But the study showed that countries with nationally centralized health-care systems were the world’s best. As Vincente Navarro noted in 2000 in the highly respected Lancet, countries like Spain and Italy “rarely were considered models of efficiency or effectiveness before” the WHO report. Polls had shown, in fact, that Italy’s citizens were more displeased with their health care than were citizens of any other major European country; the second worst was Spain. But in World Health Report 2000, Italy and Spain were ranked #2 and #7 in the global list of best overall providers.

Most studies of global health care before it concentrated on health-care outcomes. But that was not the approach of the WHO report.

This “study” furnished an enormously important talking point during the health debate.

Now we know it was just hot air.