The U.S. does not have terrible health statistics. What is happening is that the data is being manipulated (surprise, surprise!)
The federally chartered Institute of Medicine issued a comprehensive report last month on the state of American health. Saying that "Other high-income countries outrank the United States on most measures of health," the report concluded that the U.S. "is among the wealthiest nations in the world, but it is far from the healthiest."
To fix this state of affairs, the authors called on America's leaders to consider "policies that countries with superior health status have found useful and that might be adapted for the United States." But the institute's report doesn't tell the whole story. Its key measurements aren't directly related to the quality of American health care. In truth, health care in the U.S. continues to be the envy of the world.
The study looked at 13 developed countries in Europe, along with Australia, Japan, Canada and the U.S. It found that Americans suffer from higher rates of several diseases—including HIV/AIDS, heart disease and diabetes—and rank near the bottom in some common measurements of public health. Consider life expectancy. The U.S. was ranked last for men—with an average 75.64 years,
compared with 79.33 in top-ranked Switzerland—and second-to-last for women—at 80.68 years, compared with 85.98 in top-ranked Japan.
Lower life expectancy is less than ideal, but it's also not a good measure of a country's health care. In fact, the study's lead author, Virginia Commonwealth University Family Medicine Professor Steven Woolf, recently told reporters that life expectancy and other noted health outcomes are determined "by much more than health care." He added: "Much of our health disadvantage comes from factors outside of the clinical system and outside of what doctors and hospitals can do." For instance, a comparatively high rate of fatal car accidents and murders in the U.S. diminishes overall life expectancy.
Doctors in the U.S. are much more aggressive than foreign counterparts about trying to save premature babies. Thousands of babies that would have been declared stillborn in other countries and never given a chance at life are saved in the U.S. As a result, the percentage of preterm births in America is exceptionally high—65% higher than in Britain, and about double the rates in Finland and Greece.
Unfortunately, some of the premature babies that American hospitals try to save don't make it. Their deaths inflate the overall infant mortality rate. But most premature babies are saved, largely because America's medical research community is exceptionally innovative. There's a laundry list of modern medical advancements used to treat a premature baby: suction devices to clear the baby's mouth and lungs of amniotic fluid, miniature catheters to deliver vital fluids and medications, and emergency incubators equipped with sophisticated temperature-regulation technologies.
Thanks to such technologies, the U.S. neonatal mortality rate has dropped to just 5% today from 95% in the 1960s. The Institute of Medicine report ignores one of America's chief health-care assets: the country's superiority in medical innovation.