Why did all those individuals travel to the United States for treatment? Why don’t wealthy Americans travel to Canada or Europe to receive healthcare for life-threatening diseases? We often hear that for as much as we spend on health care, the life expectancy of Americans is unimpressive: we usually rank somewhere around thirty-third. But the real story is far more complicated. If you remove fatal car crashes and suicides from the equation, the United States actually has the best life expectancy in the world. That means that for the situations where the healthcare system has a real chance of making a difference, our system ranks number one.
Another number thrown around in the healthcare debate is infant mortality. Most public health experts agree that a low infant mortality rate is correlated with a high quality of life in a nation. And according to the United Nations, the United States ranks a mediocre thirty-fourth in infant mortality rates. But these numbers fail to account for the fact that doctors in the United States strive to save every baby—even very premature babies, or those at very high risk for other reasons. In many other countries—including some highly developed nations in Europe and Asia—the criteria for “live birth” may exclude babies that die within 24-48 hours of delivery. Even the World Health Organization admitted in 2006 that “among developed countries, [infant] mortality rates may reflect differences in the definitions used for reporting births, such as cut-offs for registering live births and birth weight.”
So the statistics we’ve heard thrown around in the debate over healthcare quality don’t necessarily tell the whole story. But would a centrally controlled healthcare system improve access to healthcare even if it didn’t improve quality? Not necessarily. When Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III tore his lateral collateral ligament and anterior cruciate ligament during a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks on January 6, 2013, he had surgery to repair his knee less than 48 hours later. When the captain of the Canadian women’s gymnastics team tore her ACL in May of 2012, she had to wait until August to have her knee surgically repaired. Canada—which uses a single-payer system for healthcare—has a population close to 35 million, compared to about 314 million in the United States. Yet the wait times for medical procedures in Canada is typically between 18 and 40 weeks.
There is much about our healthcare system that can and should be improved, but we must not compromise top quality care. And we certainly shouldn’t take our cues from systems that are even more broken than our own.
This article is an adapted excerpt from Bishop Jackson’s latest book You Were Born for More: Six Steps to Breaking Through to Your Destiny available at amazon.com.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.