Greg Mankiw has an article in today's NYTimes "Beyond Those Health Care Numbers," where he addresses the statement: "The United States has lower life expectancy than Canada, which has national health insurance." Mankiw points to a study by economists June and Dave O’Neill, and writes:
Americans are more likely than Canadians to die by accident or by homicide. For men in their 20s, mortality rates are more than 50% higher in the United States than in Canada, but the O’Neills show that accidents and homicides account for most of that gap. Maybe these differences have lessons for traffic laws and gun control, but they teach us nothing about our system of health care.
1. In a previous CD post, I cited a study from researchers at the University of Iowa that compares unadjusted life expectancy means in OECD countries from 1980-1999 to standardized life expectancy means, which account for the effects of premature death resulting from a non-health-related fatal injury. As the chart above shows (click to enlarge), the U.S. has the highest standardized life expectancy among the OECD countries (76.9 years), and 0.70 years higher than in Canada (76.2 years).
2. Another important measure of how the effectiveness of a health care system relates to life expectancy is to look not at life expectacy at birth, but life expectancy at older ages when the quality health of care (surgery, treatment, advance testing and screening, MRIs, expensive drugs, radiation, chemotherapy) is probably most important.
I couldn't find data for Canada, but the bottom chart above (click to enlarge) is from a previous CD post that compares additional life expectancy at ages 70, 75 and 80 for men and women in the U.S. and U.K. (see previous post for links to the data). As the chart shows, life expectancy at birth is about one year longer in the U.K. than in the U.S. But once somebody reaches age 70 or older, life expectancy is higher in the U.S. by about 2/3 of a year.
Bottom Line: Once you go beyond the the standard health care data on life expectancy at birth, the U.S. looks pretty good, and actually has the highest standardized life expectancy in the world, according to the University of Iowa study.