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Tom Finneran: America Has Poor Healthcare? Think Again

Friday, August 31, 2012


Tom Finneran, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTERâ„¢

My wife and I love to eat at the bar when we go to restaurants. You meet all sorts of interesting people and you can have some great conversations. A recent chat was revelatory.
He, expressing concern about the country’s direction and its future, offered some strong opinions about spending, debt, deficits, entitlements, and attitudes. A very sensible guy.

His wife, equally sensible, asked why it is that the United States spends so much and gets so little regarding our quality of healthcare. During the course of the conversation she cited a World Health Organization (WHO) study and ranking which placed the United States at number 37 among the nations of the world! That the United States ranks 37th in anything, good or bad, seems to defy common sense and more than a hundred years of world history .

Now, it should be noted that the WHO last published their rankings in 2000, and that they have no plans to publish more recent rankings due to the enormity and complexity of the task. Nonetheless, the ranking is out there for the world to peruse and the fact that the United States holds the 37th rank among nations reminds me of the telling phrase that “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics”.

Is there any person in their right mind that thinks the United States is 37th in the quality of its healthcare? The best hospitals, the best surgeons, and the best medicines in the entire world are in the United States and, happily for us, many of them are clustered right here in Massachusetts. For many years it has been a poorly kept secret that one of the oil-rich Middle East countries held an entire floor of one of Boston’s most prestigious hospitals so that members of the royal family and other favored citizens of that nation could secure immediate treatment for their ills.

A little closer to home, many wealthy citizens of Canada will fly to Detroit or New York or Boston for medical procedures and treatments which they cannot get in Canada or for which they would have to wait months or even years. Do you think that these wealthy or politically informed people know a little something more about the quality of United States healthcare than the WHO? They are voting with their feet and their wallets and they seem to rank the United States at the top of the heap. And they are betting on that judgment with their lives.

Here’s a question for you----You are suddenly diagnosed with a serious illness (heart attack, stroke, cancer, organ transplant, etc.) which requires immediate surgery and continuing care. You could go to Oman (#8), the U.K. (#18), Saudi Arabia (#26), United Arab Emirates (#27), Canada (#30), or that workers’ paradise Cuba (#39), which was so wonderfully praised by the health and fitness fanatic Michael Moore.

Where would you go for your treatment? Do you put any stock at all in a ranking system that has Italy ranked #2 in the world? For history, art, architecture, food, amazing scenery, crazy drivers, and beautiful women Italy should hold the top spot. But for medicine and healthcare? Are you nuts?

It turns out that--surprise!surprise!--the WHO has a built in bias which evaluates a nation’s healthcare quality based upon the extent of public financing and something called “financial fairness”. Now that’s objective isn’t it? Nothing vague or subjective there...

Take a look at the rankings for yourself and something jumps out at you pretty quickly. Every single country ranked ahead of the U.S., and those behind us as well, enjoy a remarkable homogeneity. Now consider the United States with its legendary melting pot and its diversity encompassing people from every corner of the globe. I suspect that it is much easier to treat the population of Iceland with consistent medical protocols than it is to treat the populations of Boston or Houston or Los Angeles.

I also suspect that there are peculiarities which skew the records here in the United States. Yes, our life expectancy is lower than the life expectancy enjoyed in several countries. We are a rich nation, a violent nation, and an indulgent nation. Our riches nourish our ability to be indulgent and so we eat too much and drink too much. For many years we smoked too much as well. Our homicide rate is high, particularly in the inner cities, and nothing skews the statistics more dramatically than the early deaths of crack-addicted babies born to crack-addicted mothers.

So yes, I’ll acknowledge that we have lots of problems on our healthcare plate. Obesity, addictions, stress and violence take a terrible and heartbreaking toll on many of our fellow citizens. But, for the great bulk of ordinary Americans, our healthcare is not only extraordinary—it is the best healthcare ever available, to anyone, anywhere, at any time in the history of the world.

In any event, we had a great chat at the bar and, if memory serves me correctly, we all had a nightcap as we saluted the miracles of American medicine. Beware of statistics! 


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