The Best Health Care In The World?

Conservatives often oppose health care reform by claiming that the United States has the best health care in the world and that changing the system would reduce the quality. This argument has two major problems. First of all, if anything provisions being advocated would improve upon and not reduce the quality of care here. More importantly, the entire premise is wrong. The United States ranks first only if you start reading at the bottom up by many measures.

While the United States does provide excellent care for those with good coverage (such as those in the government financed Medicare program), overall the US does not rank very well due to lack of access to adequate care for tens of millions of people. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has posted a study of how the United States compares to other countries. From their introduction:

An analysis from the Urban Institute looks at the evidence on how quality of care in the United States compares to that in other countries and provides implications for health reform. Authors Elizabeth Docteur and Robert Berenson find that international studies of health care quality do not in and of themselves provide a definitive answer to this question.

What they do show is that the evidence for American superiority in quality of care (or lack thereof) is a mixed bag, with the nation doing relatively well in some areas—such as cancer care—and less well in others—such as mortality from treatable and preventable conditions.

And while evidence base is incomplete and suffers from other limitations, it does not provide support for the oft-repeated claim that the “U.S. health care is the best in the world.” In fact, there is no hard evidence that identifies particular areas in which U.S. health care quality is truly exceptional.

Addressing the American public’s widespread concern about the potential negative impact of health reform on the quality of care they currently receive, the authors conclude that reform should in fact be seen as an opportunity to systematically improve quality of care, rather than a threat to the existing system. It provides an opportunity to build on strengths and correct weaknesses in U.S. health care, working towards aims for improvement that the care provided is safe, effective, patient centered, timely, efficient and equitable.

Many rankings of health care systems place the United States even below several third world countries but such rankings can be misleading. Many factors impact mortality rates beyond the quality of the health care system. Because of these problems, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked more specifically at preventable deaths in nineteen industrialized countries. The United States came in last at number nineteen. France, which commonly heads rankings of health care, came in first.

If the United States matched the quality of the top three countries, there would be 101,000 less deaths per year. It is hard to argue that we shouldn’t change our health care system based upon such numbers.

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  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Ron, I do not throw this statement at you as any sort of refutation of your article. Knowing my political and economic thoughts, I know you aren’t going to think I believe something because ‘Reason’ said it.
    However, they clearly think very differently about the quality of American health care and offer quite energetic gymnastic exercises to explain why American health care is better than the rest of the world despite all the lists.
    I know my thoughts on this, but I am very curious about yours.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    My thought is that they are pulling imaginary numbers out of their ass. Their numbers don’t match up with any real studies of these issues.

  3. 3
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Okay, your thoughts are very much in line with mine, then. Thanks. 🙂

  4. 4
    Leslie Parsley says:

    Yea, but the problem is that so many people walking around with their heads up their asses believe this crap.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    They are generally people who work backwards. They oppose health care reform and then invent “facts” to support their position and excuses to ignore the actual facts.

  6. 6
    Captin Sarcastic says:

    Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that the uninsured between the ages of 50 and 64 are 43% more likely to die than their insured counterparts. This adds up to 105,000 people each year whose death is directly correlated to their lack of insurance. The authors noted that if being uninsured were a disease, it would qualify as the third leading cause of death in America for that group. 

    We have a cure for the 3rd leading cause of death in America.  Opponents of reform are witholding the cure for 105,000 Americans every year.  There’s your death panel.

  7. 7
    Done the Research says:

    I would just like to ask Leslie Parsley who’s heads and up which asses, because first of all, if all of you that have posted so far would open your eyes, or ears you’d see that people from France, Canada, Switzerland, and some other nonthirdworld country’s citizens are coming to the US to get the healthcare that they need just to live.  I know that this consept is very confusing for you guys (or gals) but if you’d stop paying attention to the mainstream media and actually do your own research then I guess you’d finally be enlightened.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    Done the Research,

    For someone who claims to have done the research, you certainly have a poor understanding of the issue.

    Nobody is questioning the quality of care in the United States for those who have access to care. The problem is that we have the worst health care delivery system in the industrialized world, leaving many who are unable to have access to adequate care.

    For the most part, people in France, Canada, and Switzerland do not need to come to the United States. Before you write off the mainstream media, you might take a closer look at some of the claims the right wing media uses to con people like you. Often their stories turn out to be untrue, such as the claim being hyped recently of a Canadian who had to come to the United States for cancer treatment. It turned out that she didn’t even have cancer. Many of the claims also come direct from the insurance companies which are putting out false information to try to stop reform of a failed system so they can maintain their profits.

    That is not to say that there aren’t sometimes problems with delays in Canada, but they are greatly exaggerated by the right wing media. Besides, a Canadian style system isn’t being advocated.

    If you are judging health care systems by foreign travel, you can’t ignore the growing trend toward Americans going abroad for procedures such as cardiac bypass surgery since it costs so much less elsewhere. We also have growing numbers of Americans going to Mexico for health care since they cannot afford it in the United States.

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