John Tierney in The New York Times:
Researchers calculated that if deaths due to smoking were excluded, the United States would rise to the top half of the rankings for developed countries.
If you’re not rich and you get sick, in which industrialized country are you likely to get the best treatment? The conventional answer to this question has been: anywhere but the United States. With its many uninsured citizens and its relatively low life expectancy, the United States has been relegated to the bottom of international health scorecards. But a prominent researcher, Samuel H. Preston, has taken a closer look at the growing body of international data, and he finds no evidence that America’s health care system is to blame for the longevity gap between it and other industrialized countries. In fact, he concludes, the American system in many ways provides superior treatment even when uninsured Americans are included in the analysis.
“The U.S. actually does a pretty good job of identifying and treating the major diseases,” says Dr. Preston, a demographer at the University of Pennsylvania who is among the leading experts on mortality rates from disease. “The international comparisons don’t show we’re in dire straits.” No one denies that the American system has problems, including its extraordinarily high costs and unnecessary treatments. But Dr. Preston and other researchers say that the costs aren’t solely due to inefficiency.