Monday, August 31, 2009

Life expectancy and health care

Also at Reason

In all, there are 29 countries whose citizens have longer life expectancies than Americans.

So why do Americans die younger than people living in most other developed democracies? Well, there is the Michael Moore answer delivered in his "documentary" Sicko—it's because we lack a benevolent government funded health care system. But life expectancy is not dependent on just medical care. For example, Texas A&M health economist Robert Ohsfeldt and health economics consultant John Schneider point out that deaths from accidents and homicides in America are much higher than in any other of the developed countries. Taking accidental deaths and homicides between 1980 and 1999 into account, they calculate that instead of being at near the bottom of the list of developed countries, U.S. life expectancy would actually rank at the top.
America's relatively high infant mortality rate also lowers our life expectancy ranking. A 2007 study done by Baruch College economists June and David O"Neill sheds some light on why U.S. infant mortality rates are higher—more low weight births. In their study, U.S. infant mortality was 6.8 per 1,000 live births, and Canada's was 5.3. Low birth weight significantly increases an infant's chance of dying. Teen mothers are much more likely to bear low birth weight babies and teen motherhood is almost three times higher in the U.S. than it is in Canada. The authors calculate that if Canada had the same the distribution of low-weight births as the U.S., its infant mortality rate would rise above the U.S. rate of 6.8 per 1,000 live births to 7.06. On the other hand, if the U.S. had Canada's distribution of low-weight births, its infant mortality rate would fall to 5.4. In other words, the American health care system is much better than Canada's at saving low birth weight babies —we just have more babies who are likely to die before their first birthdays.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Ohsfeldt paper has been pretty much debunked, both in its life expectancy model and cost normalizations. The OECD expressly noted that the paper's adjustment for life exptetancy is critically flawed - "OECD Economic Surveys: United States 2008", p. 137 ( "It has been claimed (Ohsfeld and Schneider, 2006) that adjusting for the higher death rate from accident or injury in the United States over 1980-99 than the OECD average would increase US life expectancy at birth from 18th of of 29 OECD countries to the highest. In fact, what the panel regression estimated by these authors shows is that predicted life expectancy at birth based on US GDP per capita and OECD average death rates from these causes is the highest in the OECD. The adjustment for the gap in injury death rates between the United States and OECD average alone only increases life expectancy at birth marginally, from 19th on average among 29 countries over 1980-99 to 17th. Hence, the high ranking of adjusted life expectancy mainly reflects high US GDP per capita, not the effects of unusually high death rates from accident and injury."