Which Health Care System Is The Best?

Today, we’re going to take a brief macroeconomic look at healthcare systems around the world.





So, what can we learn from these colorful charts?

Well, we could learn that the U.S. health care system (pre 2008), was

  1. The most expensive, and
  2. Also one of the worst as it pertains to life expectancy and potential years of life lost.

We could also learn that countries with public health care systems can simultaneously achieve high life expectancy rates with relatively low health costs.

We could learn those things.

However, we could also recognize that these charts don’t tell the complete story…and that there are a bazillion different factors that influence health & life expectancy.

And maybe we should remember that the next time we get into a debate/argument over health care.

The answer isn’t as simple as the political pundits make it out to be.


(h/t Media Matters)



  1. For me the best health care system is the one that provides equally for the poor as for the rich. Wouldn’t that be a good idea??!!

    When I lived and worked in the UK that’s what they did. The NHS may be maligned because of the long waiting lists for surgery but when I worked in their system it seemed much more equitable than the private health systems of the US and sadly now here in Australia.

    Patricia Perth Australia

  2. Why should health care be an universal right that should be available for both the poor and rich? It’s not like health care is a free non profit service.

  3. The problem with this is you cannot compare countries straight across like this, because most countries don’t have access to so much processed foods, a lot of countries have more standard vacation time (my European friends seem to have holidays every month), and so forth. There are many cultural and physical differences between regions so the comparisons cannot be made directly. Hell my US based company was just integrated into a “world” company, we were literally told that we need to tone down things because in other countries they don’t have “winners” because that implies there are “losers” and it makes them feel insecure if there is any implication that they are not “winning” at their jobs (just insight on pressures at work in the US, you work hard for it and maybe your more stressed because of it).

    And I mentioned it before but will again, the US has so much excess; it shows up in our health. We don’t have to walk or bike or do any physical exercise for the most part, we can get sodas in every building, and we can get a burger and fries or pizza on every block. There are also a lot more regulations in other countries, some items are banned from foods, example: brominated vegetable oil to name one is banned in 100 different countries but used in the US. We also on average have good salaries, so paying for food is much easier than in some countries where cooking at home is more a requirement, thus we eat so much more processed foods you have to agree this can impact health.

    One other note, I am not sure about this study in particular but a lot of these studies have glaring flaws in them. For example a lot of times it is based on the data provided by the countries themselves and not independent auditors, and in some case this data is very different then what other countries provide. For example in some of the studies Canada does not include homicides and accidents in their formulas for life expectancy. Maybe they are right because they are looking at the “health” side and not interested in the non health related parts, but comparing data without these parts to data with it is totally worthless.

    The expense part comes from availability of higher cost procedures and drugs; again it’s the same reason why heads of state and dignitaries comes to the US rather than remain in their own socialized medicine countries. Also many countries put price controls on drugs and the like, how do you adequately compare this to a country that does not? I am sure in some form the price controls are subsided with tax dollars or other fees, and if you could truly look at the cost from beginning to end with these factored in it would most likely be similar.

    Yet the funniest part of this whole post, the part at the end with O’Reilly. I am not much a fan of him, but you got the clip from Media matters of all places. It is a short clip, maybe he expanded on this comment but it was not convenient for them to include that because it detracts from their visceral attacks. I don’t know that, I am just saying you must be EXTREMELY careful when using media from these types of internet sites. Seriously, troll their boards among all the other extreme liberal wings of the internet (Daily Kos anyone?) and you will find posts where people are wishing conservatives will die, get diseases, or are just flat out attacking them personally. Look at Joy Behar’s recent attack on Sharon Angle, this is timid compared to what many have posted or said on the left wing side of the arguments: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwVYgHLicHg . Had Sarah Palin called a liberal woman this same term, there would be such a ruckus that you would never hear the end of it, but for the left it is just a typical day in the life. It seems in the US these days the only politically correct people to attack personally are Conservatives and Christians, everyone else you must use kid gloves with, you have to love how far we have come with tolerance, we are truly witnessing tolerance in its highest form.

  4. Why shouldn’t health care be an universal right that should be available for both the poor and rich?

    just playing devil’s advocate

  5. Matt,

    Your comments are so long, I sometimes lose track of my responses and I end up scrolling up and down between your comment & mine.

    You’re putting way too much thought into my scribbles.

    Anyway, back to your comment:

    I agree with you when you question the validity of the comparison made with this data.

    That’s why I said that “we could also recognize that these charts don’t tell the complete story…and that there are a bazillion different factors that influence health & life expectancy.

    And maybe we should remember that the next time we get into a debate/argument over health care”.

    Statistics lie all the time. Both sides of an argument can often use the same data to prove their point.

    To whit, when you mention dignitaries from other countries coming to the States for expensive treatment, I can see how an Obamacare supporter could use that to prove his point. Why is it that foreigners make use of US healthcare procedures when a sizeable chunk of US citizens don’t receive the same level of treatment?

    And why don’t American states purchase drugs in huge quantities (receiving volume discounts) like Canadian provinces?

    And regarding the O’Reilly clip, I have never been on that site before today, I happened upon the video during a Google search and I thought it was a perfect example of how politicians/media/etc take a complex subject like national health care and try to distill it’s essence into a short, politically motivated soundbite.

    I know that I am biased towards the benefits of a public healthcare system as it is all I have ever known, but like most Canadians, I see that there are flaws in our system and some of us are trying to find ways to tweak the system to make it work better.

    But like in the US, there are some of us who wan’t to trash the entire system and adopt the pre=Obama US system, while there are others who treat any discussion of private health care as sacrilegious.

    Which is weird when you consider that most provincial health care systems in Canada have been deregulating services for years. This means that to cut costs, medical services that once were included in the public system are no run by private enterprise – dentist, optometrist, drugs, etc…

    It is my somewhat less than humble belief that political/theoretical dogma keeps both of our nations from having an honest discussion about finding better ways to improve health care delivery

  6. I think my comment came off a little different then I was trying to make, I mainly wanted solidify your comments more about the data.

    Also my main point at the end was just a general comment to everyone, just do the research on topics like this before making an opinion. Don’t read one article, watch one video, or listen to one person’s dialog on the matter but take in all view points with an open mind. In fact, seek out the opposite view more then your own view. If in the end you feel your initial view was correct then you know you have come to the conclusion honestly. Also beware of those who use personal attacks against those with differing viewpoints.

  7. I couldn’t agree more.

    There is a proverb that reads something like “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”

    That is why I love to discuss/debate various issues with intelligent people who hold an opposing viewpoint. I try to keep my ego out of the debate and try and learn something from the other person.

    It’s refreshing to see a similar POV.

    Normally these online arguments devolve into accusations, insults and comparisons to Hitler

  8. It is my belief that healthcare or the reasonable access to it is a universal right of all people. The U.S. healthcare system currently is broken. Even with adequate insurance, there are those citizens that are being forced into bankruptcy after a hospital stay. This is unacceptable. I know that when most people begin to think about healthcare reforms in this country much of their concerns stem not wanting to lose what they already if they have a decent health insurance policy. Unfortunately, there is a significant population in this country that work very hard but cannot afford health insurance. These aren’t lazy people. There seems to be an ongoing concern about rising healthcare costs. Well part of the reason is that if you can’t afford health insurance you tend to go to the E.R. for routine healthcare. This unfortunate process leads to the increase in healthcare costs. In addition, if our healthcare system was really about “health” and the prevention of disease I could almost understand peoples’ reluctance to want to change it, but it isn’t. It’s about money and power not only from the Insurance companies but also from the Pharmaceutical industry.

    With respect to the ridiculous term “Death Panels”, doctors and patients do need to be talking about end of life issues. We are so afraid to discuss death in this country. The atrocities that are committed in an effort to keep elderly people alive, ie. inserting feeding tubes when they can no longer eat, keeping people on respirators that have no brain function. These interventions make it more difficult and painful for a person to die. I can assure there are worse things than dying-having no quality of life where your every need is taken care of by another human being. You are being fed, changed, diapered as you were as an infant.

    Getting back to the original issue of healthcare in this country – Everyone should have access to healthcare and there should be a preventative component to that healthcare to minimize the chronic diseases that are now epidemic in the U.S. such as Heart Disease, Diabetes, OBESITY, and Cancer. As long as we continue to remain ignorant to the effects that the U.S. lifestyle, ie. cheap, processed foods, high stress lives, and a total mind-body disconnect we will just continue to become fatter and sicker.

  9. Just as everyone else has said above, to restate again, there never hill be one rule fits all. Everyone is an individual, every country has its own environmental and financial constraints, you cannot make one health service work for all countries, fact!

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