NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 13, 2007

There is a pervasive myth that the United States leads the world in spending on health care, but trails dozens of other countries in basic health outcomes.  But is it true?  The short answer is no, says Investor's Business Daily (IBD).  While politicians love to cite these international comparisons, they are rife with problems that end up making the United States look worse, a fact pointed out by researchers for years.

Take infant mortality.  The international statistics that reformers love to cite come from the World Health Organization (WHO), which defines a live birth as any baby showing any signs of life.  While the United States carefully follows this definition, many other countries do not.  As the WHO itself points out, "underreporting and misclassification are common, especially for deaths occurring early on in life."

  • For example, the United States tries to save extremely premature babies, many of which die and then get counted as an infant mortality; other countries simply count these as stillbirths.
  • In Switzerland, a baby must be at least 12 inches long to be counted as living, according to Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
  • In Japan, "social and cultural customs favor the recording of infant deaths as stillbirths because the latter are not recorded in the Koseki, the Japanese family registration system," noted a report from the congressional Office of Technology Assessment.


  • Other countries have suspiciously low infant mortality rates in the first 24 hours after birth. Eberstadt found that in the United States, Canada and Australia, more than 33 percent of infant deaths occurred in the first day of life.
  • In France, just 16 percent died in the first day, in Luxembourg just 10 percent, and in Hong Kong only 4 percent of infant deaths occurred in the first day of life.

Source: Editorial, "Not Much Bang For Our Health Care Buck?" Investor's Business Daily, February 12, 2007.


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