The Daily Mail writes,
More than 100 top doctors have signed an open letter to U.S. senators to counter ‘lies’ about the National Health Service.
…The doctors, including former president of the Royal College of Physicians Sir George Alberti and Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, and patient groups, used their letter to point out that life expectancy is longer in the UK than the U.S. – showing, they claimed, it is a better system.
Pointing to a relatively lower American life expectancy as proof of a flawed health care system is a false argument. “The problem with such international comparisons, Greg Mankiw explains, “is that there are a lot of differences among nations beyond their health systems. To make comparisons in health outcomes, you need to control for other variables. Without such controls, the simple correlations have little meaning.”
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.
National differences in life expectancies are a highly imperfect indicator of the effectiveness of health delivery systems. For example, life styles are important contributors to health, and the US fares poorly on many life style indicators, such as incidence of overweight and obese men, women, and teenagers. To get around such problems, some analysts compare not life expectancies but survival rates from different diseases. The US health system tends to look pretty good on these comparisons.
A study published in Lancet Oncology in 2007 calculates cancer survival rates for both men and women in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union as a whole. The study claims that the most important determinants of cancer survival are early diagnosis, early treatment, and access to the best drugs, and that the United States does very well on all three criteria. Early diagnosis helps survival, but it may also distort the comparisons of five or even ten-year survival rates. In any case, the calculated five-year survival rates are much better in the US: they are about 65% for both men and women, while they are much lower in the other countries, especially for men. These apparent advantages in cancer survival rates are large enough to be worth a lot to persons having access to the American health system.
Several measures of the quality of life also favor the US. For example, hip and knee replacements, and cataract surgery, are far more readily available in the US than in Europe.
For even more on this, I highly recommend reading Greg Mankiw’s New York Times Op-Ed ‘Beyond Those Health Care Numbers.’