The following article is an except form pages 67-69 of my book The Conscience of a Young Conservative. If you enjoy, free PDF copies are available through Liberty.me, and print copies are available on Amazon. 

If lifespan were the only way to measure the success of a health care system, we are not doing too well. It is no secret that the US lags behind most other first world countries in life span. When placed side by side with statistics showing how much more the US spends on health care, it appears that we spend thousands more than these countries for no added benefit. However, we must keep in mind that lifespan not the only way to measure a health care system, and it is in fact a rather deficient measurement.

If we want to determine quality and efficiency of healthcare, the best way to do this is to compare survival rates for certain life-threatening conditions between countries. This will be done later in the chapter, but here the causes of the apparent lifespan deficit between the US and other countries will be examined. The problem in using lifespan as an estimate is that while it is a good indicator a nation’s health, other factors can alter estimates when doing close comparisons between countries. If “Nation A” has a lifespan of 80 years, and “Nation B” a lifespan of 40 years, it would be reasonable to conclude that the healthcare system of Nation A is superior. However when examining the difference in lifespan between first world nations, the difference is by either months or at most a few years. Factors beside medical care can affect the average lifespan by only a very small amount, but this amount is still enough to make us appear inferior from a statistical perspective.

I have identified four factors where the US ranks poorly compared to other nations that lower our lifespan statistic. With these factors considered, it really is no surprise that the countries charted alongside the US in the table below appear to live longer: our murder rate is more than triple most of theirs, our suicide rate is slightly higher, our obesity rate is higher, and we get in more car accidents.

Table 2.1: Average Lifespan vs. Other Variables (Using Most Recent Data up to 2011)

Country

Average Lifespan[1]

Murder Rate Per 100,000[2] Suicide Rate Per 100,000[3] Obesity Rate (% of population)[4] Car Fatalities Per 100,000[5]
United States 78.57 4.7 12 28.5% 12.3
Canada 81.54 1.7 11.5 26.2% 9.2
Australia 79.2 1.16 9.7 26.8% 5.71
Cuba 78.29 4.6 12.3 11.8% 8.6
Switzerland 82.59 0.66 11.1 8.1% 5.7
Israel 82.05 2.1 5.8 15.7% 3.7
United Kingdom 80.49 1.17 11.8 24.8% 3.58

 

Fortunately, studies have been conducted on the specifics of what happens to the lifespan of citizens of a country once other variables are accounted for. According to Scott Atlas (a doctor himself), the US ranks 19th with variables unaccounted for – but #1 when factors except “fatal injuries” accounted for. [6] With only car accidents and murders accounted for, the US still ranks #1 in life expectancy, just by a larger margin.

Another way to demonstrate the effect of socialized medicine on lifespan, or lack thereof, is to look at the rate of acceleration in average lifespan in different countries before and after adopting such a system. To look at the UK; in all 48 years of the 20th century before the NHS was created in 1948, life expectancy rose from 47 years to 66 years. A rise of 19 years in real terms, or a 40.4 percent increase. By contrast, in the 48 years after the establishment of the NHS, life expectancy rose from 66 years to 77.5 years – only 11.5 years in real terms, a 17.4 percent increase.[7] The US showed similar increases in lifespan during both periods, plus or minus a few years[8] – which at least shows that we can’t credit differences in life expectancy solely to differences in health care systems.

[1] “Life Expectancy: Life Expectancy by Country.” World Health Organization. <http://apps.who.int/gho/data/node.main.688?lang=en>.

[2] Each country is individually sourced at: “List of countries by intentional homicide rate by decade.” Wikipedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate_by_decade>.

[3] “Suicide rates per 100,000 by country, year and sex (Table).” <http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide_rates/en/index.html>.

[4] OECD Berlin Centre, <http://www.oecd-berlin.de/oecdwash/viz/obesity/slide1.php?cr=usa&lg=en>. The obesity statistics should be taken with a grain of salt. Nearly every source I found offering obesity statistics gave different figures, though the US ranked above all the countries in the table regardless of what the numbers were.

[5] Rates are individually sourced at <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-related_death_rate>. All data regarding car fatalities uses the most recent figure.

[6] Atlas, Scott W. “The Worst Study Ever?” Commentary Magazine, Apr. 2011. <http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/the-worst-study-ever/>.

[7] Dalrymple, Theodore. “Universal Mediocrity.” City Journal, Summer 2012. <http://www.city-journal.org/2012/22_3_otbie-british-health-care.html>.

[8] See the table in: “U.S. Life Expectancy Lags behind 41 Nations.” USA Today, 11 Aug. 2007. <http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-08-11-life-expectancy_N.htm>.