Stayin’ Alive

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In light of the news that the Dems plan to ram through Obama’s desired changes to our health- care system in the “budget reconciliation” procedure – a gambit never used before, and one being used now because the Dems know that these changes wouldn’t pass the Senate if put to an honest vote – two recent articles caught my eye.

First was an piece by Dr. Scott Atlas, professor at the Stanford University Medical Center and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, called “10 Surprising Facts About American Health Care” (National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 649, March 24, 2009). Atlas points out that survival rates for most cancers are better in America than in European countries. For example, the death rate for breast cancer is 88% higher in the United Kingdom and 52% higher in Germany than in the United States. The death rate for prostate cancer is 6040/0 higher in the UK and 4570/0 higher in Norway. The survival rates for cancer are better here than in Canada as well.

The explanation is indicated in the second article, an editorial in The Investor’s Business Daily (March 6). The IBD observes that one reason for the disparity in survival rates is that many drugs readily available to Americans are denied to Europeans by their national healthcare systems. For example, the UK’s National Health Service will not supply Lapatinib (which prolongs the lives of breast cancer patients), Sutent (which prolongs the lives of stomach cancer patients), and Tarceva (which prolongs the lives of lung cancer patients).

In addition to noticing the greater availability of new medicines in America, both articles call attention to another drawback of state-run systems – the long wait times for patients needing major treatment. Atlas notes that British and Canadian patients wait about twice as long for elective surgery, for specialist consultations, and for radiation therapy, as do Americans.

Another interesting fact adduced by Atlas (I won’t review them all), is that Americans have better access to new med- ical technologies than patients in the UK and Canada. For instance, if you look at CT scanners, we have 34 per million citizens, but the Canadians have only 12 per million and the UK only 8 per million. MRI machines? We have about 27 per million, while the Canadians and the British have only about 6 per million.

Most striking to me were the statistics that Atlas cites on the rates of innovation in our system. To cite one example: since the mid-1970s, more Americans have received the Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology than people from all other countries put together. That is an amazing fact seldom mentioned by those inclined to bash our healthcare system.

That system has its drawbacks, including high costs and the fact that many who want insurance cannot afford it, and therefore must rely on emergency hospital care. But the socialized schemes favored by the Left have worse problems: rationing not by cost (which at least funds continuing innovation in medicine) but by wait time, lack of innovation, and lower availability of new medicines and technology. But balancing costs and benefits is something that those on the Left are not interested in doing. They have a religious faith in big government, and a burning missionary zeal to impose what they view as equality on all institutions, no matter how many deaths may result.

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