Industries afflicted with Baumol's Disease have slower productivity growth.

Election Economics: How Successful is the US Healthcare System?

Aug 20, 2012 • 319 Views

It might be tough to use statistics to judge US health care.

Among OECD countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), from 1980 to 1999, for life expectancy, the US ranked #19 and Canada was #5. However, the order flips–US #1 and Canada #4–once you exclude fatal injuries like auto accidents, suicides and murder.

Similarly, the US has had a higher infant mortality rate than Canada. The reason, though, could relate to our higher incidence of teenage pregnancies. Teenagers tend to give birth to babies with a higher mortality rate because of their lower birth weights.

You see where this is going. If a candidate defends his healthcare policy by referring to a health outcome like life expectancy or infant mortality rates, we need to be sure that the statistic actually reflects our healthcare system and not another characteristic of our society. And it even gets more complicated because we could say that we have 3 healthcare systems: Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance with a fourth on the way when statewide healthcare exchanges begin.

On which statistics would you base your your policy preferences for the US healthcare system? Or maybe we should just remember what Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), British Prime Minister under Queen Victoria said:

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

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Sources: In this 2007 NY Times column, Harvard professor N. Gregory Mankiw looks “Beyond Those Health Care Numbers” while I also referred to this Forbes article and this econtalk podcast on misleading healthcare system statistics. Finally, for a perspective that takes us away from the stats and to the bigger ideas that are driving this election, do look at what Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt says in his NY Times economix.com articles.

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