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Sunday, October 20, 2013


Speaking on "Face the Nation" this morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced Obamacare as "the biggest step ever in the direction of Europeanizing" American health care. That remark was breathtaking in its arrogance, chauvinism, and abject ignorance about the rest of the world. Before waving the concept of "Europeanization" as a bogeyman–like the Soviet Union during the Cold War—Sen. McConnell should learn a few facts:

• The U.S. leads in only one category of health care: cost per capita—$8233 in 2012, nearly three times the OECD average. [Source: OECD Health Data, 2012]

• The top five countries in the World Health Organization's rating of overall efficiency of medical care are European, with France at the top of the heap. The U.S. comes in 37th, well behind every European country and trailing the likes of Colombia, Morocco, Chile, and Costa Rica. [Source: W.H.O.]

• On life expectancy, the U.S. ranks 33rd (79 years). Number one is Japan (83 years). Six of the top eight are European countries (average 82 years). [Source: W.H.O.]

• On infant mortality, the U.S. also ranks 33rd with 6.81 deaths/1000 live births (just behind Cuba at 5.13). The list is headed by Singapore (1.92), with every European country but Poland posting a dramatically better record than the United States. [Source: United Nations World Population Prospects Report, 2011]

• The U.S. ranks 53rd in the number of physicians per capita. Leading this category are San Marino and Cuba, with all the Europeans high up the list and well ahead of the U.S. [Source: World Development Indicators Database]

By nearly every measure, the European countries (among others) post results far superior to America's. All of the European democracies have had universal health care for decades—Germany has had it since the 1880s. The U.S. is virtually alone among industrialized countries in not offering comprehensive  medical coverage to its citizens. And you can forget the scare talk about rationing, death panels, lack of choice, and interminable waits for treatment. Based on my own experience in France, where I lived and worked for more than 15 years, I was able to choose my own doctor, see him on short notice (he even made house calls), get subsidized prescriptions, and even have major surgery for a nominal cost, thanks to the Sécurité Sociale, comparable to a Medicare-for-all system. The government doesn't interfere with the doctor-patient relationship in any way—except to pay the bills. Admittedly, the system works less smoothly in the U.K., but even there, the results are far superior to ours.

One thing is sure: not a single European country is lining up to "Americanize" their system. Europeans are astounded to learn how inefficient, costly, and inequitable U.S. health care is—just as they are baffled by the recent example of government dysfunction in Washington. Obamacare will improve our system in many ways, but we will still lag behind the Europeans and other industrialized in this fundamental domain.

"Europeanize" American health care? Mr. Minority Leader: we should be so lucky.


  1. Mattox Views:

    Each of the countries cited uses different methods of measurement. Their taxes are higher, giving a social mechanism for payment. I do not believe that the US citizenry is ready for such, not yet. We have yet to determine just where the excessive costs go, but it is NOT in direct patient care. Mr. Obama himself in speaking to the AMA House of Delegates (Yes, I was there), and when trying to sell Obama care to the AMA, stated that we need to reduce the cost of health care and that 50% of the current costs are administrative and regulatory and duplicative work. I agree. We can do better, and we must for as is pointed out by the supporters of Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare are broken, and I agree .

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Ken. I still say the European system works better for more people at far less cost.