Surprising facts about American health care

Medical care in the United States is derided as miserable compared to health care systems in the rest of the developed world. Economists, government officials, insurers and academics alike are beating the drum for a far larger government role in health care. Much of the public assumes their arguments are sound because the calls for change are so ubiquitous and the topic so complex. However, before turning to government as the solution, some unheralded facts about America's health care system should be considered, says Scott W. Atlas, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor at the Stanford University Medical Center.

Americans have better survival rates than Europeans for common cancers:

  • Breast cancer mortality is 52 per cent higher in Germany than in the United States, and 88 per cent higher in the United Kingdom.
  • Prostate cancer mortality is 604 per cent higher in the United Kingdom and 457 per cent higher in Norway.
  • The mortality rate for colorectal cancer among British men and women is about 40 per cent higher.

    Americans have better access to treatment for chronic diseases than patients in other developed countries:
  • Some 56 per cent of Americans who could benefit are taking statins, which reduce cholesterol and protect against heart disease.
  • By comparison, of those patients who could benefit from these drugs, only 36 per cent of the Dutch, 29 per cent of the Swiss, 26 per cent of Germans, 23 per cent of Britons and 17 per cent of Italians receive them.

    Lower income Americans are in better health than comparable Canadians:
  • Twice as many American seniors with below-median incomes self-report "excellent" health compared to Canadian seniors (11.7 per cent versus 5.8 per cent).
  • Conversely, white Canadian young adults with below-median incomes are 20 per cent more likely than lower income Americans to describe their health as "fair or poor."

    Americans spend less time waiting for care than patients in Canada and the United Kingdom:
  • Canadian and British patients wait about twice as long – sometimes more than a year – to see a specialist, to have elective surgery like hip replacements or to get radiation treatment for cancer.
  • All told, 827,429 people are waiting for some type of procedure in Canada.
  • In England, nearly 1.8 million people are waiting for a hospital admission or outpatient treatment.

    Source: Scott W. Atlas, 10 Surprising Facts About American Health Care, National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 649, March 24, 2009.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 31 March 2009
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