A column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal discusses the often-used ranking of the U.S. health care system as 37th in the world. Experts know that the ranking system is seriously flawed, yet politicians keep citing it to demonstrate how bad the U.S. system is, and to justify the call for reform. A number of years ago, I organized a conference at Hope College on health care. In the research I did preparing for the conference, I learned that many European countries don't count the births of very premature babies as a live birth. The U.S. does. Since many of the very premature babies die shortly after birth, there will be a difference in the infant mortality rates from this difference. Now, it is unlikely that the difference in definition accounts for all the differences between the U.S. and Switzerland, but it accounts for some. There are numerous other differences in definitions, life-style choices, incidence of smoking, violent crime, and ethnic diversity across countries to make international comparisons difficult. Add to the fact that much of the rest of the world free rides on U.S. spending on research and development, and much of the differences across countries can be explained.
This is not to argue that changes in our system may not be advisable. It is meant to suggest that merely copying what some other countries are doing may not be optimal for the U.S.