The Single Greatest Myth in Healthcare

November 20, 2009

What's the single greatest myth in the healthcare debate? According to Nicholas Kristof, the single greatest myth is that we have the greatest healthcare system in the world.

ost, “An Effortless Observation about Reform,” William Fisher, PhD, told it like it is: “We rank 19th among industrialized countries in preventable deaths.”

In my last p

Well, that is just a taster.

Let's set the record straight

What's the single greatest myth in the healthcare debate? According to Nicholas Kristof, the single greatest myth is that we have the greatest healthcare system in the world.

Before listing the facts, let me provide a couple of caveats: We smoke less, and our population is younger, but more obese. And yet the disease burden in Europe is higher than ours. Despite all that and the extraordinary, ever-escalating cost of care in the United States—for instance, we “take 10% fewer drugs than citizens in other countries, but pay 118% more per pill”—we rank:

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31st in life expectancy

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37th in infant and 34th in maternal mortality. “A child in the United States is two-and-a-half times as likely to die by age 5 as in Singapore or Sweden, and an American woman is 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as a woman in Ireland.”

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Canadians “live longer than Americans do after kidney transplants and after dialysis, and that may be typical of [other] cross-border differences.”

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An African-American in New Orleans has a shorter life expectancy than the average person in Vietnam or Honduras.”

We are in last place in avoiding 'preventable deaths’ (ie, those that could be cured or forestalled), and these stats are even worse for minority groups. Indeed, “

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While we have “shorter waits to see medical specialists... citizens of other countries get longer hospital stays and more medication than Americans do because our insurance companies evict people from hospitals as soon as they can stagger out of bed.”

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better

There's one saving grace, however—our life expectancy is that in other industrialized countries once we have reached 65 years of age. It is not a mere coincidence that at that point our universal healthcare coverage (ie, Medicare) kicks in. “Suddenly, a diverse population with pockets of poverty is no longer such a drawback.”

New York Times

Statistics and links are from Nicholas D. Kristof’s November 4 column titled “Unhealthy America.”