Monday, August 18, 2008

Halderman and Stossel on Life Expectancy Statistics

Dr. Linda Halderman tackles another frequently asked question about nationalized health care:
Q: If socialized medicine is so bad, why do people in countries with government or single-payer healthcare live longer?
Here are excerpts from her answer:
A: Life expectancy in the U.S. compared with that of other countries is often cited to condemn the American healthcare system; the uninsured are dying from lack of health insurance and treatment, it is argued, while countries with universal coverage live longer as the result of their healthcare systems.

But is life expectancy primarily dependent on having health insurance? Is access to healthcare services the main determinant of longevity?


Motor vehicle fatalities are the leading cause of death for Americans aged 1-29. Driving under the influence of alcohol is the most common factor in fatal crashes. For every reported death related to a motor vehicle crash, it is estimated that thirteen individuals are injured severely enough to require hospitalization.

...Supporters of government-provided healthcare often attribute longevity to healthcare access without considering the impact of other factors. Healthcare access in the U.S. has less of an impact on mortality statistics than trauma.
She also discusses obesity, smoking and crime, concluding:
As you can see, comparing life expectancy in countries where government foots the insurance bill to our system here is like equating apples and oranges. Conditions relating to obesity, tobacco use, alcohol, and violence make America unique. Adopting a national health insurance model will not necessarily lead to a longer life.
ABC News reporter John Stossel makes a similar point in this article:
Many things that cause premature death have nothing do with medical care. We have far more fatal transportation accidents than other countries. That's not a health-care problem.

Similarly, our homicide rate is 10 times higher than in the U.K., eight times higher than in France, and five times greater than in Canada.

When you adjust for these "fatal injury" rates, U.S. life expectancy is actually higher than in nearly every other industrialized nation.
Using international life expectancy statistics as a justification for a government takeover of medicine is misleading and dangerous. Fortunately, some doctors and reporters know better.