I was talking to my Mom, who teaches nursing, about health care last weekend. She made the point that a sign of the quality of the American health care system over that of other countries is that people from Canada come here for surgeries sometimes (and pay for it!). This does happen, but I’m not truly convinced by the implication of it.
One meaningful thing that I think a whole lot of people involved in the healthcare debate can agree on is this:
The American health care system is the best health care system in the world for wealthy people.
While I’m not quite sure that this is 100% correct, it’s certainly a lot more correct than it would be without the last few words.
Despite our expenditures (more on that later), we’re 50th in life expectancy, at least 33rd (lowest) in infant mortality, and the WHO ranks our overall health system as 37th in the world in overall quality.
Some more information about the WHO’s methodology is here, and in fact the US did well in one of the components of the performance index:
Responsiveness: The nations with the most responsive health systems are the United States, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Canada, Norway, Netherlands and Sweden. The reason these are all advanced industrial nations is that a number of the elements of responsiveness depend strongly on the availability of resources. In addition, many of these countries were the first to begin addressing the responsiveness of their health systems to people’s needs.
I’m not entirely sure what this means in practice, but I can’t think of any other (good) health stats in which the US leads the list.
No one measure is a good summary of the quality of a health measure, as the systems are hopelessly complex. The WHO stopped doing the index in 2000 for this reason (and maybe some political ones..). Life expectancy seems like a good measure in general, since that’s a main point of these systems, but the inputs are completely different. Americans live differently, eat differently, drive more, and shoot each other more than most countries on the list.
The ‘best’ system must take cost into account, something the WHO did. A healthcare system that lest you live a year longer, but at twice the annual cost for your whole life probably isn’t an improvement.