NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 28, 2009

Plenty of people think the existing health care system is in need of repair. But when they hear about expensive plans that require a more powerful and intrusive federal government, they fear that what is best in our approach to medicine, the exceptional quality it provides, may get smashed in the process, says Steve Chapman, a contributor to Reason Magazine.

But President Obama and his allies say though we spend more per person on medical care than any other nation, "the quality of our care is often lower, and we aren't any healthier." That's one of the favorite rationales for a government-led overhaul. But it gives an unrealistic picture of American medicine, says Chapman:

  • It's true that the U.S. spends more on health care than anyone else and that we rank below many other advanced countries in life expectancy, but those facts don't prove we are wasting our money or doing the wrong things.
  • A big reason our life expectancy lags is that Americans have an unusual tendency to perish in homicides or accidents; we are 12 times more likely than the Japanese to be murdered and nearly twice as likely to be killed in auto wrecks.
  • But survival rates for lung, breast, prostate, colon and rectum cancers and heart attacks are best in the United States.

Critics say all those great medicines are cold comfort to Americans who lack insurance -- our greatest shortcoming. But people have it better than we think; some 62 percent of uninsured Americans are satisfied with their medical care.

The challenge is to extend coverage to the uninsured without degrading quality for everyone. With a little caution and humility, the president and Congress can find ways to achieve that goal, says Chapman.

Source: Steve Chapman, "What's Scary About Health Care Reform?" Reason, August 17, 2009.

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