Sunday, December 10, 2017

How does the US health care system measure up to others?

My wife, my daughter, and I have been in Canada now for twelve years, but I can no longer imagine life without Medicare.  I have become a Canadian, through and through.  Or, just maybe, I always was but didn't realize it until I was 48 years old.

Here's what I believe:  Access to essential medical care is a basic human need and I believe it is a human right.

And, I might add, I have absolutely nothing but the highest praise for the medical care we've received here in New Brunswick.  We've had excellent and prompt care from specialists (oncology, radiology, dermatology, and neurology), from our family doctor, and from blood clinics and emergency services.  Our experience may not be typical, but it is my first-hand experience.  It's what I know to be true.  New Brunswick's Medicare system is far from perfect, I know that, but flaws in the Canadian system do not "prove" that the American medical system is better.  

Canada's health care system is truly excellent.  But eight years ago, during the debate on the Affordable Care Act, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made in a speech on the Senate floor in which he insisted that Americans will not accept a health care system like those of Great Britain, Canada, and New Zealand.  Really?  I think he's wrong about the American people.   I know he's wrong about the "terrible" health care systems of the three countries he picked to compare with that of the US.  Actually, though, it wouldn't matter what three countries he picked, since in every other developed country in the world, health care spending is lower than it is in the United States, and results are better than those of the United States.

But Mitch McConnell chose Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom to make his point.  That wasn't an "error of judgment."  It was a display of ignorance.  It was a very stupid thing to say.  But he did it and, so, let's look at some measures of the quality of health care in those three countries, and compare them to the same results for the United States.  

Let's start with per capita health care spending, how does the US stack up against the other three?

United States: $9,451
Canada: $4,608
United Kingdom: $4,003
New Zealand: $3,590

And total health care spending as a percent of each nation's GDP:

United States: 17.1%
New Zealand: 11.0%
Canada: 10.4%
United Kingdom: 9.1%

Infant mortality rates (the number of children, per thousand who were born live, who die within their first year of life)

United States: 6.5
New Zealand: 5.7
Canada: 4.9
United Kingdom: 4.2

The probability of a newborn making it to age 65:

Canada: 82.3%
United Kingdom: 81.5%
New Zealand: 80.9%
United States: 77.4%

Life expectancy at birth for the total population (male and female), considered a good indicator of overall health.  The gap in life expectancy between Canada and the U.S.  continues to widen.

Canada: 82.2 years
New Zealand: 81.6 years
United Kingdom: 81.2 years
United States: 79.3 years

And, my own favourite statistic, expected number of healthy years of life?

Canada: 72.3 years
New Zealand: 71.6 years
United Kingdom: 71.4 years
United States: 69.1 years