People die for other reasons than health. For example, people die because of car accidents and violent crime. A few years back, Robert Ohsfeldt of Texas A&M and John Schneider of the University of Iowa asked the obvious question: what happens if you remove deaths from fatal injuries from the life expectancy tables? Among the 29 members of the OECD, the U.S. vaults from 19th place to…you guessed it…first. Japan, on the same adjustment, drops from first to ninth.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the “more costly, less quality” narrative isn’t true in other ways. What it does show is that making cross-country comparisons is a complex process fraught with many opportunities for error and misinterpretation. We can learn important truths about health care policy from studying other countries’ systems closely, but using one-off, decontextualized statistics isn’t the way to do it. Beware anyone trying to argue for a pet health care policy on the basis of a few statistics.[Photo of stethoscope and money courtesy of Shutterstock]