The other day, I encountered this tweet by a Swedish pop band:
If you would need to go to the doctor in sweden, remember to exagerate your condition x 10, otherwise they wont help u.
— Lo-Fi-Fnk (@LOFIFNKOFFICIAL) November 13, 2012
I was then led to reflect on the attitude many Americans take when comparing the American healthcare system to that of other countries. Often, we look at statistics on mortality rates, average lifespan, etc., and compare them to those of other countries. “Look,” we say, “according to the World Health Organization’s World Health Report, the United States’ healthcare system is ranked 37th! We have higher infant mortality and a shorter average lifespan, even though we are spending more money per capita on health care.”
When we do this, we are failing to recognize the differences between each country’s methodology and the WHO’s methodology. In the United States, neonatal death rate is reported by doctors or other healthcare professionals, whereas in many other countries, it is reported based on a household survey taken every 5 years. In addition, as stated by the National Review,
The United States strictly adheres to the WHO definition of live birth…and uses a strictly implemented linked birth and infant-death data set. On the contrary, many other nations, including highly developed countries in Western Europe, use far less strict definitions, all of which underreport the live births of more fragile infants who soon die. As a consequence, they falsely report more favorable neonatal- and infant-mortality rates.
We don’t even use the same standard of measurement as other countries! Our infant mortality rate and life expectancy rate are altered when compared to other countries who use different standards of measurement. When adjusted for infant mortality, homicide, and auto accident deaths, our life expectancy doesn’t look nearly as bad.
We also fail to take into consideration the prices citizens of other countries pay for their healthcare. The prices may not be monetary, but everyone pays a price for healthcare. In the United Kingdom, although the patient pays no money out of pocket and doctors are paid largely based on the well-being of their patients, citizens pay a large value added tax (a consumption tax) of 20% on most items. In addition, since healthcare is administered by geographic location, similar to the way the US public school system works, where there is good healthcare, housing is mroe expensive, just like housing near good public schools in the US. Add to that the council (NICE) that decides whether or not certain procedures can be performed by doctors, and you’ve got a pretty good price to pay for healthcare in one of the top 20 healthcare systems in the world, although none of it is a monetary cost directly from the consumer to the provider.
My point is not to say that our healthcare system doesn’t need to be tixed. I do think it needs to be fixed. All I’m trying to say is that we’re not as bad off as we think. We often have the attitude of woe-is-us-there-is-no-hope-for-American-healthcare. This is not true. If we take action, we can make it better than it is. For now, we need to work on making the Affordable Care Act work for America and make sure that we put our healthcare system on a sustainable track. We can fix healthcare as long as we do it one step at a time. Just remember that there are advantages and disadvantages to every system. We won’t be able to make something that’s perfect, but we can make something that works well for America.