One of the key arguments underpinning Democrats’ push for health-care reform is that not only do we spend more money on health care than other rich countries, but we get less for it. In particular, critics cite international statistics showing that our life expectancy is lower than that of people in France, Japan and other countries.
Well, the New York Times’ John Tierney reports on a study that may have just put paid to the notion that our health-care system is responsible for our lower life expectancy. Samuel Preston, a demographer and expert on mortality rates from diseases at the University of Pennsylvania, says we are not “in dire straits” according to his review of the international data. Writes Tierney:
No one denies that the American system has problems, including its extraordinarily high costs and unnecessary treatments. But Dr. Preston and other researchers say that the costs aren’t solely due to inefficiency. Americans pay more for health care partly because they get more thorough treatment for some diseases, and partly because they get sick more often than people in Europe and other industrialized countries.
…there are many more differences between Europe and the United States than just the health care system. Americans are more ethnically diverse. They eat different food. They are fatter. Perhaps most important, they used to be exceptionally heavy smokers. For four decades, until the mid-1980s, per-capita cigarette consumption was higher in the United States (particularly among women) than anywhere else in the developed world.
In fact, according to Preston, smoking alone is responsible for our being at the bottom of longevity rankings rather than in the top half — and we might be able to close the longevity gap further if more of us would just quit smoking.
Read the whole thing.