Over at fivethirtyeight.com, Andrew Gelman has posted an interesting graphic (see below) plotting the average life expectancy in Western industrialized countries against the per capita spending on health care in those countries. (The size of the circles reflects the average number of doctor visits per capita in each country, another category in which the US lags.)
Granted, life expectancy is influenced by a whole range of factors in addition to the quality of health care. But look how far out there the United States is on cost alone. By any measure, we are grossly inefficient in health-care delivery compared to our industrialized competitors.
In normal circumstances, you’d look at a graph like that and wonder whether we ought to be doing what our competitors are doing. Certainly, that’s what any corporate CEO would do if confronted by data such as this. But we Americans are not supposed to acknowledge that other countries may be doing something smarter and better than the United States, because we all know — chant it together now class — “the United States has the greatest health care system in the world.”
And of course, if we ever did dare look at how other countries manage to provide more health care at less cost, we’d find that in almost every case they do by treating health care more as a public utility than as a private industry.