If the healthcare systems in Canada and Europe are so much worse than ours, somebody ought to tell the Canadians and Europeans.
There's little dispute that the United States has the most expensive healthcare system in the world. Our nation spends about $7,300 per person on healthcare every year, nearly 2.5 times the average for developed countries, which is $2,964, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
But there's intense argument over whether our system is better than that in other countries. Just about everybody with an opinion on the matter has a horror story to support it. To make his case for reform, President Obama has cited several Americans who suffered or died because they couldn't get adequate care or an insurance company denied coverage. Defenders of the U.S. system trot out examples of Canadians or Brits who had to wait so long for rationed care that they developed several new diseases in the meantime. And everybody loves to pick on France, where care is generous but taxes are high and work optional.
Anecdotal snapshots, however, tell us nothing meaningful about an issue as complex as healthcare, since the plight of a given individual reveals nothing about the effectiveness of the overall system. Now we know something more useful: how citizens in various countries rate their own healthcare systems. The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions surveyed 14,000 people in six countries, asking them to grade their own healthcare system from A to F. The standardized results allow comparisons among all six countries.
If you're expecting to hear that the United States scored worst, then surprise! America was only second worst. Germany got the lowest grades, with just 18 percent of Germans giving their healthcare system an A or B. In the United States, 22 percent of respondents gave the healthcare system an A or B. Switzerland got the highest marks, with 66 percent of people giving the system top grades; France was next, at 63 percent.
Here's how all six countries fared. The survey data are from Deloitte. Also included are cost data from the OECD, to give a sense of who's getting the most satisfaction per healthcare dollar:
Canada: Percent rating the healthcare system A or B: 46 percent; D or F: 15 percent; annual healthcare spending per person: $3,895
France: A or B: 63 percent; D or F: 12 percent; spending: $3,601
Germany: A or B: 18 percent; D or F: 44 percent; spending: $3,588
Switzerland: A or B: 66 percent; D or F: 14 percent; spending: $4,417
United Kingdom: A or B: 32 percent; D or F: 20 percent; spending: $2,992
United States: A or B: 22 percent; D or F: 38 percent; spending: $7,290
Many critics of American healthcare would like to see the United States adopt a single-payer system modeled on Canada or the U.K., while free-market defenders insist that government-run healthcare would be a disaster. Deloitte's survey data show that socialized medicine in Canada and Britain is more popular than the quasi-capitalist healthcare system in America—which costs far more. Brits and Canadians may be more satisfied partly because they have a higher tolerance for government bureaucracy than Americans do. But the findings also undercut claims that the British and Canadian systems don't work.
The Economist recently derided American critics of Britain's National Health System for creating a bogus bogeyman meant to scare Americans anxious about reform. "Painting an inaccurate picture of the British system . . . helps blind Americans to weaknesses in their own one," the magazine wrote. "The NHS costs half as much per person as the American system costs. Yet it delivers results which are on some plausible measures actually superior. . . . And it does this while avoiding the disgrace that so shames America, of leaving around 46 million people, some 15 percent of its population, without any form of health insurance."
But don't bother asking the Brits about their own system. What do they know?