The Best Health Care in the World

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Guess what country offers its residents the best health care in the world.

If you guessed the United States, you’ve been snookered by a bunch of lying, exceptionalist politicians and their boot-licking sycophants. You’ve been listening to too much talk radio, or too much bull hockey from the part of the mainstream media that equates journalistic integrity with giving both sides of the story equal time, even if one side is patently lying.

If you accept the premise that quality of health care is reflected in how long people live (and if you don’t, please propose a reasonable alternative) then the US ranks 49th of the 224 nations whose longevity statistics are available.

This data point doesn’t come from some left-wing America-hater, either. The source is none other than the CIA’s World Factbook, a downloadable compendium of everything the CIA knows and is willing to share about the rest of the world. In the CIA’s ranking, Portugal stands one rung above the US, Taiwan one rung below.

A baby born this year in any of these countries can expect to celebrfate her 78th birthday. Past that, the difference in ranking between the US and those on either side of us on the CIA scale is measured in months. A baby born in Monaco, the top-ranking country, has a life expectancy a hair under 90 years. Among the top 26 countries, those with longevity rates projected to be 80 years or more, are Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, France, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, Israel, Norway, and Ireland.

If you’re present when a politician tells you we don’t want “socialized medicine,” the kind these countries have, please dig in your pockets and see if you can find a rotten egg or tomato to let fly. No shoes, please. The way this country’s civil liberties are going, toss a shoe and you’re apt to be charged as an enemy combatant and thrown in the can for good.

If you’re a data wonk (I never though I was, but I’ve spent much of this day looking at charts and tables from organizations that have no vested interests in making the US look either good or bad in the health care area) you can download the data tables from the World Health Organization’s 2010 statistics. I did, and I’m too angry right now to write calmly about what I’ve found, particularly about countries’ and individuals’ out-of-pocket expenditures for health care.

Instead, let me give you this, from the New York Times late last month.

By any measure, the United States spends more on health care than any other nation. Yet according to the World Fact Book (published by the Central Intelligence Agency), it ranks 49th in life expectancy.


Researchers writing in the November issue of the journal Health Affairs say they know the answer. After citing statistical evidence showing that American patterns of obesity, smoking, traffic accidents and homicide are not the cause of lower life expectancy, they conclude that the problem is the health care system.

Peter A. Muennig and Sherry A. Glied, researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, compared the performance of the United States and 12 other industrialized nations: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. In addition to health care expenditures in each country, they focused on two other important statistics: 15-year survival for people at 45 years and for those at 65 years.

The researchers say those numbers present an accurate picture of public health because they measure a country’s success in preventing and treating the most common causes of death — cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes — which are more likely to occur at these ages. Their data come from the World Health Organization and cover 1975 to 2005.

Life expectancy increased over those years in all 13 countries, and so did health care costs. But the United States had the lowest increase in life expectancy and the highest increase in costs.

I added the bold face printing. Read the rest here.

The article doesn’t blame the American profit motive, or the tendency to over-test and over-prescribe drugs to avoid malpractice claims (which are not nearly as prevalent as advocates of the US health care mess would have you believe). I wouldn’t expect that from the New York Times. But I fault the paper for this: the one dissenting voice quoted is a doctor who blames smoking for the higher death rate — as if most of the other countries that performed better didn’t have a higher concentration of smokers than the US does. That’s the kind of mainstream media “fairness” that ill serves us all.

I want you to care about this. I want you to care deeply — on behalf of the people you love most. Including, I hope, yourself. I want you to care for the babies being born this year into a system of health care that will not serve them as well as it should — and could — were it not for the overwhelming influence of money in everything that touches the laws that touch our lives.

Death is a fact of life, but death from disease need not be. Your body’s cells will divide a certain number of times and that will be all. But that kind of death is not painful (I’ve seen it happen several times) and it is not costly. It tends to happen in the 90s or later. Not everyone gets to have that kind of death.  But largely because of the money-driven health care (or lack of it) we have, not enough of us do.

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One Response to “The Best Health Care in the World”

  1. […] it was where we stand as a nation with regard to the effectiveness of our health care system, as measured by life expectancy.We got to stand up and cheer, “We’re Number […]

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