NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 22, 2007

Citing a 2000 World Health Organization (WHO) rating of 191 nations and a Commonwealth Fund study of wealthy nations, the New York Times recently declared the United States is a laggard not a leader in providing good medical care.  As usual, the Times editors get it wrong, says news correspondent John Stossel.

So what's wrong with the WHO and Commonwealth Fund studies?  Plenty, says Stossel:

  • 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, for example.
  • When you adjust for these "fatal injury" rates, U.S. life expectancy is actually higher than in nearly every other industrialized nation.

Another reason the United States didn't score high in the WHO rankings is the U.S. ranking is influenced heavily by the number of people -- 45 million -- without medical insurance.  Government aggravates that problem by making insurance artificially expensive with, for example, mandates for coverage that many people would not choose and forbidding us to buy policies from companies in another state.

But even with these interventions, the 45 million figure is misleading, says Stossel:

  • 37 percent of that group lives in households making more than $50,000 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • 19 percent are in households making more than $75,000 a year; 20 percent are not citizens, and 33 percent are eligible for existing government programs but are not enrolled.

For all its problems, the United States ranks at the top for quality of care and innovation, including development of life-saving drugs, says Stossel.  It "falters" only when the criterion is proximity to socialized medicine.

Source: John Stossel, "Why the U.S. Ranks Low on WHO's Health-Care Study,", August 22, 2007.


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