Comparing health care systems

One night last week our household received a phone call from Rep. Stivers’ office indicating he was talking with those who responded to his random phone calls and would answer any questions constituents had. Unfortunately, I was one of the last ones to request an opportunity to talk, so there was no time for my question. However, as I listened to his responses I was convinced that he is a well-meaning and sympathetic person.

Most of what I listened to concerned health care, and I was a bit disappointed in some of his comments. Not surprisingly he assumed our health care system is superior and criticized the Canadian and British single-payer systems. I have quite a bit of experience in Canada since my wife was raised there and her relatives still live there. I have also been treated in two hospitals there and have not been charged.

Further, I served on the Clinton County hospital board for 12 years and have a serious interest in the topic.

Mr. Stivers stated that the US spends more money on health care than any other country and indicated that this was good. He was certainly correct on our health care expenditures — on average we spend $8,233 per person while Canada spends $4,445 per person or 43 percent less. However, spending more does not mean better health care.

One way to look at health care is to determine the overall ranking of the system by the recipients — the patients. In an international survey by the Commonwealth Fund of 11 wealthy countries, the US received the lowest rank.

Another important characteristics of a health care system is access — can all the citizens have access to health care and, if not, why? The Commonwealth Fund addressed this by focusing on “cost related problems” and “timeliness of care.” Again, the US ranked at the bottom on cost-related problems, but fifth with reference to timelines of care. Another measure, life expectancy, placed the US last compared to these other wealthy countries.

Such measures leave much to be desired, but when comparisons consistently show the US well below average one must question the quality and cost of our health delivery system. It seems clear that we receive much less for our health care investment than we should.

Neil Snarr