Saturday, September 24, 2011

Is our healthcare system worse than Cuba's?

Watching the debate on Thursday, I was surprised how the candidates personal stories often got in the way of the facts. Take Herman Cain, for example. He told his story of overcoming cancer and flat out said that he would be dead if he had been sick under "Obamacare." The audience loved it. The implication, of course, is that government's involvement is healthcare slows things down and is an overall detriment to one's health. It's a convenient theory (considering his party), but it doesn't stand up to the facts.

I was told by a 9th grade science teacher once to keep it simple, stupid (KISS). We'll take his advice in evaluating Herman's claim. I can't think of a better way to evaluate this than looking at life expectancy in the US versus countries with more government-run health care (see the figure above). The numbers on the left are the country ranking and the numbers on the right are average life expectancy (in years) at birth. For reference, Japan is number 1 at 82.6 years. The US is tied at #36 with Cuba and Denmark. Canada, Italy, Switzerland, and France are all above us. You may say, "well, it's a cultural thing; Europeans have healthier diets and the lifestyle is different there." Looking close, however, also above us on the list are disparate countries such as South Korea, Chile, Costa Rica, Singapore, Israel, and Australia (who's citizens live on average almost 3 yrs longer than we do!). It appears that cultural factors can't easily explain away our #36 ranking in the above table. In short, and in general, Herman Cain would have been better off getting cancer in a host of other countries (just about all of which have more government intervention in their health care systems) than right here at home.

Okay, you say, but in America personal choice is paramount and people can often lengthen
(by their lifestyle) their life expectancy. That may be true in some cases, but if you look at the most vulnerable among us, new infants, we'll notice the US healthcare system failing on another front (i.e., infant mortality). This is shown in the table to the right. That's us at #46 in the world at 6.26 deaths (within their 1st year) for every 1000 live births. We are two spots behind Cuba. At #1 is Singapore at 2.3. If you haven't been born yet, you'd be more likely to survive your first year if you're born in Cuba than in the United States. That is a fact.

To put some of the related costs in perspective, in 2006 our country spent $6719 per citizen on health care (even with our supposedly private health care system) whereas Singapore spent $1536 per citizen (according to the WHO). Cuba? $674 per citizen. This is insane. Any politician who defends the current, private health care system in the US needs to have his head examined.

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