Archive for February, 2011

US Nationalized Healthcare?

Since my immediate and extended family leans towards right-wing Christianity, I get quite a few pro-republican email forwards. Based on the number of pro-republican email forwards on the internet, I have to think that these are written by Republican activists to buttress the Republican “troops”. Here’s one of the recent ones I received:

Check the last set of U.N.I.H.O. statistics!!

Will make you sick. A recent “Investor’s Business Daily” article provided very interesting statistics from a survey by the United Nations International Health Organization.

Percentage of men and women who survived a cancer five years after diagnosis:

U.S. 65%
England 46%
Canada 42%

Percentage of patients diagnosed with diabetes who received
treatment within six months:

U.S 93%
England 15%
Canada 43%

Percentage of seniors needing hip replacement who received it
within six months:

U.S. 90%
England 15%
Canada 43%

Percentage referred to a medical specialist who see one within
one month:

U.S. 77%
England 40%
Canada 43%

Number of MRI scanners (a prime diagnostic tool) per million people:

U.S 71
England 14
Canada 18

Percentage of seniors (65+), with low income, who say they are in
“excellent health”:

U.S. 12%
England 2%
Canada 6%

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want “Universal Healthcare” comparable to England or Canada.

Moreover, it was Sen. Harry Reid who said, “Elderly Americans must learn to accept the inconveniences of old age.”


He is “elderly” himself but be sure to remember his health insurance is different from yours as Congress has their own high-end coverage! He will never have to learn to accept “inconveniences”!!!

So, I looked up the numbers to see if they could be confirmed or disputed. To be honest, based on past experience with email forwards, I was pretty sure the information was going to be bad. The great things about sending political arguments via email forwards is that there’s no central place where the information gets commented on – unless people go and google the information – and generally, people don’t question information that supports their existing opinions. The end result is that even if the information has been shot-down a thousand times, most people will never read any rebuttals because they’re not immediately at hand and they don’t seek it out.

Here’s what I found:

There doesn’t seem to be any organization known as “UNIHO” or the “United Nations International Health Organization”. There is, however, an organization known as the World Health Organization, which is a branch of the UN. They don’t seem to have published any statistics that match the numbers in this email. The WHO does publish global health statistics, but they tend to be much simpler statistics – information like the average life expectancy, infant mortality, rates of malaria, access to clean water, etc.

The magazine “Investor’s Business Daily” exists, but it doesn’t look like they ever published an article which contains these statistics. This is the same magazine, by the way, that got themselves into trouble a year and a half ago by publishing an article containing the claim that “People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.” Of course, Stephen Hawking did receive his healthcare in the UK and is still alive.

As far as the actual statistics, they were difficult to verify because they were not statistics normally collected by organizations. One that could be verified was the number of MRI machines per capita. The US ranks #2 in the number of MRI machines per capita. The nation with the most is Japan, which has socialized medicine.

After giving up verifying the numbers in the email, I looked at more general measures of health. What did I find? Americans spends far more on healthcare than any other country. We spend 53% more money, per capita, than the second-highest spending country, Norway, but rank 37th in life expectancy. Of the 36 countries that beat the US in longevity, over 75% of them spend less than half as much money on healthcare, per capita. To compare the United States to Canada: Americans spend 65% more money on healthcare than Canadians, are 53% more likely to die between the ages of 15 and 65 than Canadians, and, at the age of 65, have life expectancy of 1 year (males) or 1.5 years (females) less than Canadians.

Total expenditure on health (2007)
United Kingdom: 8.4% of GDP, $2,992 per person
Germany: 10.4% of GDP, $3,588 per person
Sweden: 9.1% of GDP, $4,495 per person
Canada: 10.1% of GDP, $4,409 per person
France: 11.0% of GDP, $4,627 per person
Norway: 8.9% of GDP, $4,763 per person
United States: 15.7% of GDP, $7,285 per person

Physicians per 1,000 people – the US ranks 52nd out of 201 nations that provided these statistics.
Germany (23rd): 3.4 Physicians per 1,000 people (Best)
France (25th): 3.37 Physicians per 1,000 people
Sweden (26th): 3.3 Physicians per 1,000 people
Norway (34th): 3.1 Physicians per 1,000 people
United States (52nd): 2.3 Physicians per 1,000 people
United Kingdom (55th): 2.2 Physicians per 1,000 people
Canada (58th): 2.1 Physicians per 1,000 people (Worst)

Death from Cancer
United Kingdom: 253.5 deaths per 100,000 people (Best)
Sweden: 268.2 deaths per 100,000 people
France: 286.1 deaths per 100,000 people
Norway: 289.4 deaths per 100,000 people
United States: 321.9 deaths per 100,000 people
Netherlands: 433 deaths per 100,000 people (Worst)

Life Expectancy (2008)
Canada: 81 (Best)
France: 81
Sweden: 81
Norway: 81
Germany: 80
United Kingdom: 80
United States: 78 (Worst)

Adult Mortality Rate (probability of dying between 15 and 60 years per 1,000 population):
Sweden: 62 (Best)
Norway: 67
Canada: 70
United Kingdom: 78
Germany: 78
France: 87
United States: 107 (Worst)

Life Expectancy at 65 years old (male/female)
Canada: 18.1 / 21.3 years (Best)
France: 18.0 / 20.7 years
Germany: 17.6 / 20.7 years
Norway: 17.5 / 20.6 years
United Kingdom: 17.6 / 20.2 years
United States: 17.1 / 19.8 years (Worst)

Despite the talk of healthcare rationing and death panels, the reality is that the United States does pretty poorly with the amount of money we spend on healthcare. In terms of lifespans, the United States does roughly as well as a country which spends 1/3rd as much money on healthcare as the United States. For comparison, here’s a graph comparing longevity in different countries to the amount of money spent on healthcare per capita:

US Healthcare
(The source for this graph is here, page 128.)

Based on the trend line, Americans should live six to seven years longer than we currently do.

I will mention two possible arguments in support of the conservative viewpoint:

* It could be that Americans diet and lifestyles are so bad that even our expensive healthcare system can’t cope with our unhealthiness. This argument is partially true. The US is the fattest of the developed countries. However, we’re only slightly fatter than Germany. According to this article, 66.7% of Americans are obese while 66.5% of Germans are and 61% of English are.

* The US healthcare system is a tiered system. It could be that middle-class and upper-class Americans have good healthcare (and longer longevity) than the averages shown above, while poor Americans have shorter lifespans. Maybe those poor Americans are lowering the US’ national averages. While I do think that’s true, it also means that the middle and upper class are paying more than the record-setting $7,285 per person in healthcare costs.

I do think it’s funny how the tea-party is always complaining about how taxes harm the economy. Yet, if we could lower our per-capita healthcare expenditure from 15.7% down to 10.7%, that’s the equivalent of giving everyone 5% off their taxes — and I don’t mean 5% of the total tax amounts, but I mean it’s the equivalent of lowering all the tax-brackets by 5%, e.g. turning the 35% tax bracket into a 30% tax-bracket. Of course, all the fear-mongering stories also serve the purpose of demonizing Democrats, which help them win elections.

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