President Obama’s re-election likely means that Obamacare will become the law of the land. But the Supreme Court’s recent decision to hear new legal challenges to the law has reignited the conversation over our nation’s healthcare apparatus.
During the debate over Obamacare, those who favor socialized medicine pointed to Canada and the nations of Western Europe as examples of better healthcare systems than ours.
When [end-of-life] decisions are made for patients by a centralized government, tyranny reigns
- David Laska
But the notion that our neighbors to the north or across the pond have better healthcare than us is, in a word, wrong.
One of the most oft-repeated justifications for this belief is that Americans spend more money than other developed countries on health care, but die sooner: if only we would hop aboard the European-style socialized medicine bandwagon, we’d live longer and healthier lives.
But that statistic is based solely on national life expectancy rates that fail to adjust for homicides and fatal accidents. On those lists, the United States ranks 19th, behind Japan, Australia, Canada and most Western European nations.
But when the data is adjusted to find a standardized mean life expectancy excluding fatal injuries, the United States tops the list.
The reason for the United States’ high fatal injury rate is a subject for another article, but we shouldn’t let it obscure the fact that car accidents and homicides don’t tell us much about health care quality. The truth is, in terms of naturally occurring health issues, Americans live longer than anyone else.
The case of cancer survival rates provides an illustrative example of how well intentioned government programs can actually obstruct a citizen’s path to quality care.
In 2008, a group of investigators conducted a worldwide study of cancer survival rates. The United States had the highest survival rate for breast and prostate cancer, and the highest survival rate for women with colorectal cancer. For men with colorectal cancers, we were second to Japan.
Our overall cancer survival rate of 73.8 percent was first among nations, over three points above second-place Canada’s rate of 70.5 percent.
For all its fanfare, the UK’s coveted National Health Service (NHS) has imposed upon Britons a 52 percent cancer survival rate.
The reasons for Britain’s middling rate are deeply troubling. Wait times for government-funded diagnostic tests like colonoscopies and MRIs often exceed the amount of time it takes for less-serious cancers to metastasize.
As a result, cancers that might have been cured by a single surgery become fatal.
Last year, the Chairman of the British Medical Association called the waiting times “inhumane.”
In at least one case, the NHS stands directly in the way of patients receiving medicine. The drug Avastin is known to slow the growth rate of advanced cancers by about a month, but the NHS has decreed that the expense of the drug outweighs an extra month of life, and has refused to fund it.
Of course, they still allow British subjects to purchase the drug privately, to the tune of about $30,000 per patient. And they have the gall to tell Americans that our healthcare system favors the rich.
Imagine living in a country in which your government told you that they’d foot the bill for all of your medical expenses, but that an extra month of your life wasn’t worth the cost.
In a free society, end-of-life decisions are made by patients in consultation with their doctors. When those decisions are made for patients by a centralized government, tyranny reigns.
As the Supreme Court reconsiders some Obamacare questions and the federal bureaucracy prepares for the herculean task of implementing the program, all parties would be wise to consider one of the principle precepts of medical ethics: first, do no harm
After all, the United States is still the country with the longest life expectancy and the best cancer survival rates. For now.
David Laska is Communications Director of the New York State Republican Party.