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Does America Have the Best Health Care in the World?


Americans don't think so:

According to Americans, the United States does not have the best health care in the world. Most see our health care as average (32%) or below average (27%) when compared with health care in other industrialized countries. Only 15% support the often-used political talking point that America has the best health care in the world; 23% say it is above average.

If anything, they're being too generous. If you include the value we get for our dollar, and the grim landscape for the un- and underinsured, America's health care is far below average.

That paragraph, by the way, comes via Adam Serwer, who points out the "the survey also notes that the more money you make, the more likely you are to believe that America does have the best health care system in the world. That, I think, says a great deal about the inherent class bias present in our national debate on health care."

By Ezra Klein  |  October 14, 2009; 1:03 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform , Health of Nations , Polls  
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So if I'm reading correctly, 32% say "Average", 23% say "above average", and 15% say "world's best". Together, then, 70% are saying "average or better" (32+23+15 = 70), leaving a fringe minority of 30% who say "something less than average".

The bar chart makes it look as if the opposite is true, by summing "average" into the "below average" bin and displaying the resulting stacked column at the far end of the "below average" side of the chart: a transparent number trick effective only against the weak minded. Yoda would be impressed.

Even though these data underscore the point that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that the nation's health care is average or better, I note that we have no indication those surveyed have the slightest clue about health care in other nations.

Posted by: rmgregory | October 14, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I've seen so much contradictory analysis on this subject, it is difficult to know whom to believe. I find it interesting that while various groups cite satisfaction rates (not very convincing) or mortality rates (highly skewed by our unique demographics) or costs (again skewed by demographics among other factors); I have yet to see any detailed analysis of 5 and 10 year survival rates for various ailments. I found one study from an international organization that indicated the U.S. and France had the best 5 year survival rates for cancer; but nothing on heart desease, emphasema, stroke, traumatic injury, infectious desease etc. It seems to me this would be the best measurement of a national health care system. Where am I most likely to survive the longest once I become sick or injured?

Posted by: WoodbridgeVa1 | October 14, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

When I see surveys such as this one, I'm always surprised that there's not even an attempt to distinguish between quality of care and access to/cost of care. I'm guessing that the more affluent respondents are talking about quality of care, and they are correct that the quality of care you can get in the U.S. is very good, assuming of course you can afford it. The less affluent respondents are probably responding more in terms of cost of care and problems getting access to it. Basically, if you have access to health care, you're likely to rate our system pretty high. If you don't have access to it, whether because you can't afford or are otherwise denied insurance, you'll rate our system poorly.

Posted by: Refidnas | October 14, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Together, then, 70% are saying "average or better"
The question was best in the world, not is american health care average.

Posted by: obrier2 | October 14, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Another problem with this: "world's best" is decidedly NOT the opposite of "below average". So this is scale is skewed to the negative.

Posted by: Daniel2344 | October 14, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

38% say above average, the remainder average or below.

Two observations: (1) we get average or below at a tremendous cost, and (2) these surveys are suspect in that who knows what average is, to make the claim we are above (or below it)? Even better, the 15% that say we are world's best have no idea what other healthcare systems deliver.

Posted by: scott1959 | October 14, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

So now what's considered "best" is determined by a poll?

And who was surveyed? The same people who don't know George Washington was the first president or that there are nine justices on the Supreme Court?

And what's to be said for someone who equates "best" with survey results?

Posted by: msoja | October 14, 2009 6:00 PM | Report abuse

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