Our system needs many fixes, but when it matters most, there’s no better place to get sick.
The most tedious allegation that critics of the U.S. health-care system make is that we spend exorbitantly for poorer results compared with socialized systems in other rich countries. It underpins the Democrats’ ongoing mission to expand Medicare and levy price controls on prescription drugs.
But these critics distort the truth. If a person is going to get sick — and we all are at some point — there’s no better place to do so than the United States.
Government-run systems simply guarantee equal access to long waits for care.
Take Canada, where I grew up. Patients face a median wait of nearly six months between getting a general practitioner’s referral and receiving treatment from a specialist. While the average emergency-room wait time in the United States is about 40 minutes, ER wait times in Nova Scotia averaged two and a half hours this summer — the highest they’d been in four years.
Detractors of the U.S. health system also tend to ignore evidence that mitigates the United States’ poor performance on some health metrics.
For instance, the United States ranks last among the Commonwealth Fund’s eleven rich countries in life expectancy. But the unpleasant truth is that Americans kill each other at a rate seven times higher than in other high-income countries. And no health-care system in the world can revive the dead.
It’s not just homicides. We’re twice as obese as other rich countries. We die in car crashes and from drug overdoses at nearly four times the rate of such peer nations as Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.
There’s also wide regional variation in health outcomes throughout the United States. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “the life expectancy of Minnesota, a state comparable in size and demographics to Sweden or Denmark, has more similar population health outcomes to these countries than Minnesota has in comparison to Mississippi.”
Then there’s infant mortality, where the United States routinely ranks lower than our peers. Yet countries report births differently around the globe. France counts only the babies born after the 22-week mark, while Poland imposes a one-pound, two-ounce threshold.
In contrast, the United States reports every live birth. And our doctors work to save more premature babies than in any other developed nation. Thanks to superior care and medical technology here in the States, most of those preterm babies survive. And the Herculean effort we undertake to rescue babies that other rich countries don’t even count as live births skews our infant mortality rate higher.