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Privatized US health care falls behind. Don't let it come to Canada.

The U.S. health care system is responsible for the slower rise in life expectancy in the U.S. compared with other developed countries (including Canada) which have universal health care coverage, according to a new U.S. research study.

The Ottawa Citizen reports the study, by a team at New York's Columbia University, ruled out other factors that are often blamed for the relatively short life expectancy in the US (such as obesity, smoking, traffic accidents and a U.S. murder rate that is among the highest in the developed world).

Researchers compared U.S. health-care spending and mortality statistics with those of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.  The study found that life expectancy and health-care costs from 1975 to 2005 rose in all the countries, but costs climbed faster in the United States, while lifespan rose more slowly.

Researchers reported that the United States was fifth among the leading industrialized countries in 1950 with respect to life expectancy at birth for women. But figures as recent as last month show the United States ranked 49th for male and female life expectancy combined.

Many defenders of the private, insurance-centred U.S. health-care system blame lifestyle factors for the discrepancy.  But the study found that the prevalence of obesity has grown more slowly than in other nations, while the number of smokers has declined more rapidly.  It also determined that the number of deaths from traffic accidents and homicides had remained stable over time, meaning they were also unlikely to account for the relative fall in survival rates.

Health-care spending per capita in the United States rose at nearly twice the rate of the other countries between the years 1970 and 2002. One recent estimate puts it at $7,290 per person — well over twice the median expenditure of industrialized nations.

Canadian advocates of the privatization of health care often downplay the US model, sometimes claiming that they are really advocating a European model.  However, public healthcare is usually broader and stronger in European countries than in Canada.  Moreover, the US is the leader in privatized health care, with for-profit corporations running a wide variety of services.

With such results, it is hardly surprising that advocates of privatization prefer to talk about something other than the privatized U.S. system. 

The study can be found here


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