Myth: The U.S. has the Best Health Care System in the World
Thursday, January 15, 2015 04:35 PM

Myth: The U.S. has the best health care system in the world.

Fact: The U.S. has among the worst health statistics of all rich nations.

Although the United States spends more on health care than any other nation, a growing body of research shows that Americans are in poorer health and live shorter lives than people in many other high-income countries.  The U.S. does not have the best health care system in the world - it has the best emergency care system in the world. But advanced U.S. medical technology has not translated into better health statistics for its citizens.

Nor is America's international reputation in health care as high as many Americans boast it to be. The often asked rhetorical question is "which country is the envy of the world when it comes to health care?”  But according to a Gallup poll published by the Toronto Star, only 2 percent of all Canadians believe that the U.S. has a better health care system than their own.

A review of the health care statistics from World Health Organization (2011) compares 17 countries – the United States and 16 “peer” countries.  Here are the rankings:

Deaths from all causes:                                                    17th out of 17 countries

Deaths from non-communicable diseases                       16th          "

Deaths from Injuries                                                          16th          "

Deaths from Nutritional deficiencies                                 15th         

Deaths from communicable diseases                               14th          "

To be more accurate, America does not have the finest health care system in the world; it has the finest emergency care system in the world. Highly trained American doctors can summon Star Wars-type technology in saving patients who have become seriously injured or critically ill.  The USA is pretty good at cancers and other neoplasms, but it is near the bottom of the lists as far as deaths from diabetes, endocrine disorders, genitourinary diseases, and neuropsychiatric conditions go. It is not much better for deaths from diseases from sense organ diseases, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, digestive diseases, skin diseases, or musculoskeletal diseases.  Even our highly developed dental medicine ranks 10 out of 17 for deaths from oral disease.  The United Kingdom ranks better.  As far as preventative medicine goes, the U.S. is still in the Stone Age. 

In Europe during the last century, life expectancy nearly doubled after nations purified their drinking water and created sanitation systems.  Likewise, what affects the health of Americans lies more outside the formal health care system than within it.  A healthy diet and exercise provide better health than most medicines in most circumstances. Other nations have realized that factors outside the hospital are more important than factors inside it and have used this bit of wisdom to lower their health care costs.

The U.S. may have the best medical technology in the world, but at $10,000 a procedure, who can afford it? Part of the problem is that there is more profit in a pound of cure than an ounce of prevention; more profit in treating "dramatic diseases” than in working with the unhealthy to strengthen healthy function of the body.    

Another part of the problem is that America has a high level of poverty and income inequality among all rich nations, and poverty affects one's health much more than the limited ministrations of a formal health care system. The U.S. ranks 35th out of 157 countries for the percentage of its population below the poverty line.  The US has 15.1% of its population below the poverty line, while the leading countries have fewer than 5% living below the poverty line.

The link between poverty and poorer health has long been known. The American Journal of Epidemiology states that "a vast body of evidence has shown consistently that those in the lower classes have higher mortality, morbidity and disability rates" and these "are in part due to inadequate medical care services as well as to the impact of a toxic and hazardous physical environment."  One survey reviewed more than thirty other studies on the relationship between class and health, and found that "class influences one's chances of staying alive."

If America is to improve its health statistics, it must not only reduce its dependence upon “dramatic care”, it must depend less upon care that merely promotes well-being”– the state of being comfortable, happy or healthy, and seek to improve functional health – the state of being free from illness or injury.  It must seek to reduce poverty for its citizens as well.  What role will the chiropractic industry take to assist in achieving these objectives and assisting America actually having the best health care system in the world?