There are two definitions for “syllogism” in Webster’s Dictionary. The first is for a deductive argument with a major and minor premise followed by a conclusion, as in: “Every virtue is laudable; kindness is a virtue; therefore kindness is laudable.”

Makes perfect sense.

The other definition is for any subtle, specious or sneaky argument.

The classic example comes from Ambrose Bierce’s “The Devil’s Dictionary.”

If 60 men can do a piece of work 60 times as quickly as one man, and one man can dig a post hole in 60 seconds, then 60 men can dig a post hole in one second.

Logically, that may make sense; practically, of course, it’s nonsense.

We’re beginning to fear that the deductive arguments used to pass national health care reform are of the post hole variety.

During the run-up to the health care debate, President Barack Obama argued that the health-care bill before Congress was “essentially identical” to the universal coverage plan passed into law by then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2006.

To Obama, the national plan would not only provide nearly universal coverage, but do the seemingly impossible: cut the cost of health care.

More care for more people for less money. How could that be bad?

Now, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Brenda Harvey has carried that argument to its seemingly logical conclusion: If it’s good for Massachusetts and it’s good for the nation, then it will be good for Maine.

The national plan will cost Maine in the short term,  she predicted last month, but the net savings to the state by 2014 will be $31.8 million.

But the trouble with logic is that if you start with a faulty premise, everything that proceeds from it is likely faulty as well.

The emerging flaw is that Massachusetts now has the highest average health care premiums in the nation.

Gov. Duval Patrick recently tried to tackle the problem by simply capping hundreds of proposed insurance rate premium increases.

However, a state appeals board reversed most of those controls, saying they were arbitrary and ignored “economic realities.”

Two recent studies cast further doubt on the success of the Massachusetts plan.

The first found that thousands of residents are “gaming” the state’s individual coverage mandate. In other words, they are signing up for insurance only when they need an expensive procedure, like surgery, and then dropping the coverage after they recover.

Even more troubling was another study finding that hospital emergency room visits have climbed in Massachusetts, shattering the expectation that universal care would prompt people to visit their less-costly family physician first.

That is apparently in line with several national studies showing that expanded coverage does not deter emergency room use.

Many of the newly covered residents apparently can’t find primary care physicians or simply won’t wait for an appointment.

Of course, no one can say for certain how national health care will play out. There are just so many variables, moving parts and unknowns that almost anything is possible.

If, however, it is”essentially identical” to the Massachusetts plan, Maine’s savings may be as realistic as 60 men digging a post hole.

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