Since one of President Obama's three main policy priorities is reforming health care, and since progressive pundits often make invidious comparisons between health care in the U.S. and the single-payer health care systems of Europe and Canada, it's worth revisiting an Investor's Business Daily op/ed on this topic written by former Canadian physician Dr. David Gratzer in 2007. Below is an excerpt:
One often-heard argument, voiced by the New York Times' Paul Krugman and others, is that America lags behind other countries in crude health outcomes. But such outcomes reflect a mosaic of factors, such as diet, lifestyle, drug use and cultural values. It pains me as a doctor to say this, but health care is just one factor in health.
Americans live 75.3 years on average, fewer than Canadians (77.3) or the French (76.6) or the citizens of any Western European nation save Portugal. Health care influences life expectancy, of course. But a life can end because of a murder, a fall or a car accident. Such factors aren't academic — homicide rates in the U.S. are much higher than in other countries.
In The Business of Health, Robert Ohsfeldt and John Schneider factor out intentional and unintentional injuries from life-expectancy statistics and find that Americans who don't die in car crashes or homicides outlive people in any other Western country.
And if we measure a health care system by how well it serves its sick citizens, American medicine excels. Five-year cancer survival rates bear this out. For leukemia, the American survival rate is almost 50%; the European rate is just 35%. Esophageal carcinoma: 12% in the U.S., 6% in Europe. The survival rate for prostate cancer is 81.2% here, yet 61.7% in France and down to 44.3% in England — a striking variation.
Like many critics of American health care, though, Krugman argues that the costs are just too high: health care spending in Canada and Britain, he notes, is a small fraction of what Americans pay. Again, the picture isn't quite as clear as he suggests. Because the U.S. is so much wealthier than other countries, it isn't unreasonable for it to spend more on health care. Take America's high spending on research and development. M.D. Anderson in Texas, a prominent cancer center, spends more on research than Canada does.
Dr. Gratzer doesn't make this point explicitly, but it's also true that patients in other countries benefit from the research and development financed by the American health care system. It's worth reading the rest of his column.
The photo above, of the Proton Therapy Center at M.D. Anderson, comes from M.D. Anderson's website.