Last week, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann told a town hall, “Let’s not destroy the greatest health care system the world has ever known.”
Bachmann is not alone in her belief that our system is the best. A survey conducted last year found that 45 percent of American respondents thought our nation had the world’s best health-care system, and 55 percent said we receive better quality of care than people in other nations. And, a recent poll showed 81 percent of Americans are concerned that the quality of their care will decline if universal health care comes to pass.
These statistics come from a new 14-page brief titled “How Does the Quality of U.S. Health Care Compare Internationally?” (pdf) The Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation looked at nearly 60 studies and reports that analyze health-care quality indicators across the world.
“The overall evidence is mixed,” according to the brief’s authors, “indicating that the United States has neither the best nor the worst quality of health care for particular conditions among developed countries. In certain cases where U.S. quality appears low relative to that of other countries — in the areas of prevention and care for chronic conditions, for example — access barriers experienced by the uninsured and the underinsured may contribute to the results seen.”
If you’ve ever needed facts at your fingertips while discussing health-care reform at a town hall or a Labor Day picnic, this brief might help set the record straight about how our nation’s system stacks up with the rest of the world.
One of the first questions the brief addresses is how to define high-quality health care:
• From the U.S. Institute of Medicine: Quality is “the degree to which health services for individuals and populations increase the likelihood of desired health outcomes and are consistent with current professional knowledge.”
• From the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: “Quality health care means doing the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right person and having the best results possible.”
The brief’s authors acknowledge the difficulties in measuring quality. “Because health care involves a complex array of activities, and because there are many holes in our knowledge of the relative quality in many areas, it is impossible to use a single measure as a meaningful proxy.”
Still, the brief pulls together in one place a number of comparative studies from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as well as from health researchers.
Facts at your fingertips
A key quality indicator in health care is life expectancy. I found this stat disturbing: “We rank among the lower third of developed countries in life expectancy at birth.” Life expectancy for men and women at age 65, however, is above the OECD average, “but below what the top countries have achieved, particularly for women.” The federal Medicare program is given credit for the good numbers at age 65.
While the U.S. had above average mammography rates (61 percent vs. 55 percent of OECD nations), the rate was “far below the best performers (82-98 percent in four countries).” Still, we had the highest cervical cancer screening rate among 22 countries.
Given the fears about the spread of H1N1 flu, it’s good to know that we have above average rates of flu vaccination for senior citizens (65 percent vs. 55 percent OECD and 80 percent in Australia). On the other hand, our childhood vaccination rates are below the OECD average.
The brief also looks at research on five-year cancer survival rates for the U.S. and 17 European countries. The U.S. had the “highest survival rates for cancer of the colon, rectum, lung, breast and prostate.” U.S. survival rates were “also among the highest for melanoma (fourth), uterine (second) and ovarian (fifth) cancer, cervical cancer (sixth), Hodgkins disease (third) and non-Hodgkins lymphoma (fourth).”
Those are just a few of the stats I pulled from the brief, but there are many more. I’ve added the report to my favorites for handy reference in the future and perhaps you will, too.