Another reason the U.S. didn't score high in the WHO rankings is that we are less socialistic than other nations. What has that got to do with the quality of health care? For the authors of the study, it's crucial. The WHO judged countries not on the absolute quality of health care, but on how "fairly" health care of any quality is "distributed." The problem here is obvious. By that criterion, a country with high-quality care overall but "unequal distribution" would rank below a country with lower quality care but equal distribution.
It's when this so-called "fairness," a highly subjective standard, is factored in that the U.S. scores go south.
The U.S. ranking is influenced heavily by the number of people -- 45 million -- without medical insurance. As I reported in previous columns, our government aggravates that problem by making insurance artificially expensive with, for example, mandates for coverage that many people would not choose and forbidding us to buy policies from companies in another state.
Even with these interventions, the 45 million figure is misleading. Thirty-seven percent of that group live in households making more than $50,000 a year, says the U.S. Census Bureau. Nineteen percent are in households making more than $75,000 a year; 20 percent are not citizens, and 33 percent are eligible for existing government programs but are not enrolled.
For all its problems, the U.S. ranks at the top for quality of care and innovation, including development of life-saving drugs. It "falters" only when the criterion is proximity to socialized medicine.
Next week: the truth about the Commonwealth Fund study.