Friday, August 24, 2007

WHO says US Health Care system ranks 37th in the world

The US ranked 37th out of 191 countries in WHO's report (PDF) behind such health care giants like Costa Rica, Morroco, and Cyprus, and in a report by the Commonwealth Fund the US ranked last or next to last in all categories except one when compared to Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

But really... who cares what WHO thinks?

Well Michael Moore does, and apparently he makes a big deal of these statistics in his new anti-American film, Sicko.

But John Stossel takes a closer looks at these studies, and as usual finds out they're not all that they're cracked up to be.

So what's wrong with the WHO and Commonwealth Fund studies? Let me count the ways.

The WHO judged a country's quality of health on life expectancy. But that's a lousy measure of a health-care system. Many things that cause premature death have nothing do with medical care. We have far more fatal transportation accidents than other countries. That's not a health-care problem.

Similarly, our homicide rate is 10 times higher than in the U.K., eight times higher than in France, and five times greater than in Canada.

When you adjust for these "fatal injury" rates, U.S. life expectancy is actually higher than in nearly every other industrialized nation.

Diet and lack of exercise also bring down average life expectancy.

Another reason the U.S. didn't score high in the WHO rankings is that we are less socialistic than other nations. What has that got to do with the quality of health care? For the authors of the study, it's crucial. The WHO judged countries not on the absolute quality of health care, but on how "fairly" health care of any quality is "distributed." The problem here is obvious. By that criterion, a country with high-quality care overall but "unequal distribution" would rank below a country with lower quality care but equal distribution.

It's when this so-called "fairness," a highly subjective standard, is factored in that the U.S. scores go south.

The U.S. ranking is influenced heavily by the number of people -- 45 million -- without medical insurance. As I reported in previous columns, our government aggravates that problem by making insurance artificially expensive with, for example, mandates for coverage that many people would not choose and forbidding us to buy policies from companies in another state.

Even with these interventions, the 45 million figure is misleading. Thirty-seven percent of that group live in households making more than $50,000 a year, says the U.S. Census Bureau. Nineteen percent are in households making more than $75,000 a year; 20 percent are not citizens, and 33 percent are eligible for existing government programs but are not enrolled.

So like most things espoused by Michael Moore, they're shallow arguements based on halftruths and misleading statistics.

This isn't to say that the US healthcare system is without flaws. We all know there's room for improvement. Frivolous lawsuits create higher malpractice premiums for doctors, and higher insurance premiums overall. So doctor visits cost more, testing costs more, and procedures cost more because you're not spending your money. Other people are spending your money, and Stossel quotes Milton Freidman, "No one spends other people's money as carefully as he spends his own."

And multiply that problem by 1000 if you want the government to take over and socialize healthcare. You think ER waiting rooms are packed now, just wait and see. All doctors offices will be like the DMV. Like socialized systems in Canada and Europe, you have to schedule appointments 6 months in advance, and wait months even years for important tesing and surgical procedures. Preventative medicine will be a thing of the past. Doctors and nurses will function more like postal workers; nothing against the post office, but would you bet your life on your package arriving on time via the post office? To quote PJ O'Rourke, if you think healthcare is expensive now, wait to see how expensive it is when it's free. Our public schools spend more per student than any other nation on the planet, and yet our public education system barely makes the top 20.

Whenever people talk about having the government run anything I always think of this satirical scienctific piece on a new elemnet just discovered: governmentium.

A major research institution (MRI) has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest chemical element yet known to science. The new element has been tentatively named Governmentium. Governmentium has 1 neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of governmentium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would normally take less than a second. Governmentium has a normal half-life of three years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause some morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to speculate that governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as Critical Morass.


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