Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What comes first? The opinion or the facts.

I have opinions. I'd like to believe that most of them are based on facts (I'm sure that some aren't). Often when we have already decided what our opinion on a certain topic is, we interpret any information we find exactly how we want so that it jives with our preconceived notions. I call this faith (or, the absence of logic and reason). I recently got bogged down in a "debate" online about healthcare in the United States. Life expectancy (or should I say, our supposed poor ranking with regards to life expectancy vs. other industrial nations) was used as a rationale for government intervention in the healthcare game. I have decided that two "rules" should be followed before someone uses this "statistic" as the reason we need Uncle Sam's health insurance. First, please stop using Cuba's statistics for anything. Are we to believe any information that comes out of that place. Come on!!! Second, make sure you understand how these so called rankings were given and by whom. I'm gonna be lazy for the rest of this post and share an article that I think properly dissects the WHO (World Health Organization) and OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) life expectancy rankings (they don't rank us very high). It doesn't even mention the fact that Americans eat more and participate in less physical labor than most, if not all of the other countries listed. These are personal lifestyle choices that the government has no business attempting to regulate. Our healthcare in America is far from perfect. But the government has a very short list of things it does well. It takes an unreasonable amount of faith to believe that providing health coverage would make that list.

I am sorry I haven't posted for a week or so, but be honest...are you really waiting in high anticipation for my blog posts. Unlikely. Anyway, for your consideration.....

Inaccurate Grounds for Calling U.S. Health Care Inferior
Critics of the U.S. health care system frequently maintain that other countries have superior health care we should use as models for U.S. reform. They argue that many countries spend far less on health care than the United States yet seem to enjoy better health outcomes.
However, these claims fall apart upon careful examination. Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. has top-tier survival rates, choice of providers, and very short wait times. It turns out that the statistics critics cite either are incomplete or compare apples to oranges.

WHO Rankings. Critics frequently quote the World Health Report 2000, prepared by the World Health Organization (WHO), in whose performance rankings of 191 nations' health care systems the U.S. disappointingly ranked 37th. You'd assume these WHO rankings would reflect how likely you were to survive an illness or injury, or to live better and longer with a chronic condition. However, the WHO rankings give great weight to whether the evaluated health care system meets the organization's ideological preferences.

The U.S. is penalized for things like allowing Health Savings accounts, not having a government-run health care system, and having an insufficiently progressive income tax system (i.e., escalating rates on increasing levels of earnings).The low U.S. grades on these overcome its advantage on the statistics that directly measure health outcomes, where WHO rates our country number one.

Life Expectancy. Another frequently cited statistic is that according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the U.S. ranks 18th among 30 world democracies in life expectancy. However, health care is not the only factor in life expectancy. If you correct for two causes of death not directly related to health carehomicides and automobile accidentsthe U.S. actually rises to the top of the list for life expectancy.

Infant Mortality. The UN ranks the U.S. 163rd out of 195 countries in comparing infant mortality rates. However, in measuring these rates, the U.S. includes all deaths after "live birth" and defines births as live if newborns show any sign of life, regardless of prematurity. By contrast, Austria and Germany include only deaths of infants who weigh at least one pound at birth. In Belgium and France, the deaths of infants born after less than 26 weeks of pregnancy are not included. Moreover, many other countries do not reliably register babies who die soon after birth.

Specific Diseases. When you compare the outcomes for specific diseases, the U.S. clearly outperforms the rest of the world. According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, five-year survival rates for all of the five most common types of cancer are better in the U.S. than in European countries.

Medical Innovation. Moreover, the U.S. drives the bulk of worldwide research and innovation related to health care. A study by Michael Tanner concludes, "Eighteen of the last 25 winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine are either U.S. citizens or individuals working here. U.S. companies have developed half of all new major medicines introduced worldwide over the past 20 years. In fact, Americans played a key role in 80 percent of the most important medical advances of the past 30 years. ... [A]dvanced medical technology is far more available in the United States than in nearly any other country."

Even under the WHO rankings, the U.S. is rated first in "responsiveness to patients' needs in choice of provider, dignity, autonomy, timely care, and confidentiality." Despite genuine problems of distribution and utilization of preventive care, overall, in comparison with other countries U.S. health care is faster, more effective, and more advanced.

1 comment:

  1. I've always thought the problems with the US healthcare system are not about the care it provides ... by all measures, it's pretty much unbeatable - as long as you can afford it. If you can't, you're screwed ...

    Our NHS isn't awesome in terms of the healthcare it provides - it's pretty damn good, but it could be better. However, you'll have a damn difficult job trying to find anyone here who is willing to get rid of it, or allow it to become private because we know that, no matter what happens to you, you will always be looked after ... if you don't have your health, you don't have anything, so the idea that you could ever be forced to choose between your health and every penny you've earned in the last decade is utterly alien (and disgustingly inhuman) to us.