The quality of and access to health care in the U.S. isn’t currently on the “hot topics” list. But then, much of what constitutes daily life realities doesn’t interest the Electeds (and significant portions of the Electorate). When it does, it’s often in a “trending” sort of way. Nevertheless, two recent reports are related to health care in USA! USA!
The first is from the Heritage Foundation, now headed by former senator Jim DeMint. As Think Progress reports, DeMint “decried Obamacare as ‘a cancer’ that is ‘is fundamentally inconsistent with liberty.’” Apparently “liberty” as related to health care (and probably “life” and the “pursuit of happiness”) is all about “free economies.” From Think Progress: (emphasis added throughout)
(A) new report from DeMint’s own organization suggests that, far from being incompatible with freedom, countries with health care systems with as much or significantly more government control over healthcare are the freest countries in the world.
The report in question is Heritage’s Economic Freedom Index … . (It) defines the concept of ‘economic freedom’ in misleading right-wing terms, but even by those standards, it appears that universal health care systems far more expansive than Obamacare aren’t ‘fundamentally inconsistent with liberty.’ In fact, the ten ‘freest’ economies in 2013 by Heritage’s lights range from mandating individuals save a certain amount of money for health care to almost the entire health care system, including hospitals, being owned and operated by the government … .
The ten economies identified are of: Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Chile, Mauritius, Denmark, and the United States,
… which will finally join the rest of the top ten ‘most economically free nations’ in providing universal or near-universal health care when Obamacare is fully implemented.
Whatever “near-universal” turns out to mean with Obamacare, we’re starting off well below other “high-income countries,” the focus of study by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Via National Academies: U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health.
Although the United States spends more on health care than any other nation, a growing body of research shows that Americans are in poorer health and live shorter lives than people in many other high-income countries. …
The report finds that America’s health disadvantage probably results from a combination of factors: inadequate health care systems, unhealthy behaviors, social and economic factors, and environmental factors, such as metropolitan landscapes that encourage car use rather than exercise. …
There have been improvements in life expectancy and health “over the past century,” but the gains have “lagged behind those in other high-income countries.”
The NIH sponsored report
… examines the nature and strength of the research evidence on life expectancy and health in the United States, comparing U.S. data with statistics from 16 ‘peer countries’ – other high-income democracies in Western Europe, as well as Canada, Australia, and Japan. …
The panel was struck by the gravity of its findings. For many years, Americans have been dying at younger ages than people in almost all other high-income countries … . This disadvantage has been getting worse for three decades, especially among women. Not only are their lives shorter, but Americans also have a longstanding pattern of poorer health that is strikingly consistent and pervasive over the life course … .
The areas in which “Americans fare worse” include “at least nine health areas”: infant mortality and low birth weight; injuries and homicides; adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections; HIV and AIDS; drug-related deaths; obesity and diabetes; heart disease; chronic lung disease; disability.
There are some areas in which the U.S. does better: “lower cancer death rates and greater control of blood pressure and cholesterol levels.” And if you live in the U.S., and reach the age of 75, you “can expect to live longer than people in the peer countries.” But other than those exceptions, “other high-income countries outrank the United States on most measures of health.”
The U.S. health disadvantage cannot be fully explained by the health disparities that exist among people who are uninsured or poor, as important as these issues are. Several studies are now suggesting that even advantaged Americans … are in worse health than similar individuals in other countries.
Among the “likely explanations” for the “U.S. health disadvantage”:
Health systems. Unlike its peer countries, the United States has a relatively large uninsured population and more limited access to primary care. …
Health behaviors. Although Americans are currently less likely to smoke and may drink alcohol less heavily than people in peer countries, they consume the most calories per person, have higher rates of drug abuse, are less likely to use seat belts, are involved in more traffic accidents that involve alcohol, and are more likely to use firearms in acts of violence.
Social and economic conditions. Although the income of Americans is higher on average than in other countries, the United States also has higher levels of poverty … and income inequality and lower rates of social mobility.
Ranking “Seventeen High-Income Countries” by life expectancy at birth (2007), Switzerland has the highest ranking for males (79.33) and Japan for females (85.98). The U.S. ranks 17th for males (75.64) and 16th for females (80.78).
The tragedy is not that the United States is losing a contest with other countries, but that Americans are dying and suffering from illness and injury at rates that are demonstrably unnecessary.
Superior health outcomes in other nations show that Americans also can enjoy better health.
Of course, that would require a willingness to admit that USA! USA! can learn from anyone else.
(Shorter Lives Poorer Health graphic via The National Academies)