Healthcare in Not-America

HEALTHCARE IN NOT-AMERICA….Jon Cohn writes about America vs. the world when it comes to healthcare:

Look at Japan. It has universal health care. It also has more CT scanners and MRIs, per person, than the United States….On a per capita basis the French get more physician office visits and more drugs than their American counterparts….The Germans get almost as much time as the French.

….Cannon, Gratzer, Tanner, and others have all seized on the survival rates for cancers — particularly breast cancer and prostate cancer. In those two cases, Americans diagnosed with those diseases are significantly more likely to live than Europeans diagnosed with them….[Some caveats follow.]….But, even if that were true, it’s hard to read the data as indictment of universal health care when the U.S. survival rate on other ailments isn’t so superior. The Swedes are more likely than Americans to survive a diagnosis of cervical, ovarian, or skin cancer; the French are more likely to survive stomach cancer, Hodgkins disease, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Aussies, Brits, and Canadians do better on liver and kidney transplants.

Good stuff. And yet, it still leaves me with the unsettled feeling that all we’re doing here is showing that we can cherry pick data just as well as the Heritage Foundation can. After all, every system does some things well and some things poorly, and it’s not that hard to make any point you want if you only show a tiny portion of the data. (For example, here’s a handy rule of thumb: any time a healthcare article starts nattering on about hip replacement waiting times in Canada, just stop reading. The authors are cherry picking so egregiously it’s a wonder their fingers haven’t fallen off.)

It’s always struck me that one of the big obstacles in the way of universal healthcare in America is that it’s so easy to scare Americans about healthcare in other countries. Basically, Americans just have no clue what healthcare is like elsewhere and assume that, say, in France, it’s only barely better than it is in the third world. (Did you know that French-speaking Canadians sometimes have to wait a year for hip replacements?!?) But despite the damage this widespread fear does to the cause, almost no one ever writes about what foreign healthcare looks like to the actual people who use it. A full-scale book looking at healthcare in other countries, warts and all, would be great. Even a long magazine article about healthcare in one country would be great. But for some reason, very little like that really seems to exist. Just a scattering of OECD studies stuffed with charts and footnotes.

I’m not sure why. Is it too hard? Too expensive? Or what? In any case, demystifying healthcare in other advanced countries sure seems like it would help out the pro-universal healthcare cause in America. So consider this a job from the assignment desk.

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