The myth of "the best health care in the world"

Monday morning catchup....

Newsweek, two weeks ago, published a column, "The Myth of 'Best in the World'."


"Not to be heartless or anything, but let's leave aside the dead babies. In international comparisons of health care, the infant mortality rate is a crucial indicator of a nation's standing, and the United States' position at No. 28, with seven per 1,000 live births—worse than Portugal, Greece, the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and 23 other nations not exactly known for cutting-edge medical science—is a tragedy and an embarrassment. Much of the blame for this abysmal showing, however, goes to socioeconomic factors: poor, uninsured women failing to get prenatal care or engaging in behaviors (smoking, using illegal drugs, becoming pregnant as a teen) that put fetuses' and babies' lives at risk. You can look at 28th place and say, yes, it's terrible, but it doesn't apply to my part of the health-care system—the one for the non-poor insured.

That, in a nutshell, is why support for health-care reform is fragile and shallow. Yes, many people of goodwill support extending coverage to the 47 million Americans who, according to the Census Bureau, had no insurance for all or part of 2006. An awful lot of the insured, though, worry that messing with the system to bring about universal coverage, even if it allows more newborns to survive, might also hurt the quality and availability of care that they themselves get ("If I have trouble getting my doctor to see me now, what will happen when 47 million more people want appointments?"). This is where you start getting the requisite genuflection to the United States' having "the best health care in the world." One problem: a spate of new research shows the United States well behind other developed countries on measures from cancer survival to diabetes care that cannot entirely be blamed on the rich-poor or insured-uninsured gulf. None of this implies a specific fix for the U.S. health-care system. It does, however, say that "the best in the world" is a myth that should not be an impediment to reform."

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Gary Schwitzer published on April 14, 2008 7:42 AM.

Drug ads should tell you the cost was the previous entry in this blog.

US "system" compared to health care around the world is the next entry in this blog.

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