Do Countries With Socialized Medicine Really Live Longer?

Authored by: Matt Palumbo

While it’s common to hear liberals refer to America as the only developed nation without socialized/government run healthcare, the biggest socialized healthcare system in the world exists in the United States. Its name is the Veteran’s Administration -and anyone that’s followed the countless stories of the soul crushing bureaucracy present there knows it’s hardly a model for a national system.

Given the hundreds of thousands of veterans that have died awaiting care from the VA, you’d probably be skeptical of the argument that government run healthcare makes nations healthier, and live longer. But that’s just what liberals are arguing, and at face value (and only face value) the statistics do appear to indicate as much.

  • “The United States spends far more on healthcare per person than any other nation. Yet we have lower life expectancy than most other rich countries” says economics Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman. (Side note: Krugman had called the Veteran’s Administration a “huge policy success story” in 2011).
  • “American life expectancy has consistently lagged behind that of other developed nations” reports Fortune Magazine. Among the causes cited include “a lack of universal coverage and less robust safety net compared to most other countries.”
  • “Life expectancy in the United States declined to 78.6 years in 2016, placing America at number 37 on the list of 137 countries the World Economic Forum has ranked in their annual Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018” reported the Huffington Post.

This is a classic case where someone is right about a statistic, but giving the wrong story to explain it.

I probably don’t need to remind you that there are plenty of people who die in scenarios where medical care cannot be applied (such as a murder victim, someone who completed a successful suicide attempt, or died at the scene at a car accident). According to Forbes Magazine’s Avik Roy:

A Few years back, Robert Ohsfeldt of Texas A&M and John Schneider of the University of Iowa asked the obvious question: what happens if you remove deaths from fatal injuries from the life expectancy tables? Among the 29 members of the OECD, the U.S. vaults from 19th place to…you guessed it…first. Japan, on the same adjustment, drops from first to ninth.

Similarly, the authors of the 2006 book “The Business of Health” found that only accidental deaths needed to be accounted for, and the U.S. ranks #1 in lifespan. This data is a bit older however, stretching from 1980-1999. Regardless, we were still the only OECD without socialized medicine during that period.

And lastly, America is a tad more humane when it comes to measuring infant mortality than other nations.

Most countries (with the exception of the U.S.) classify babies as “stillborn” if they survive less than 24 hours after birth. The “stillborn” under that criterion make up 40-50% of all infant deaths. So when comparing a country with an equal number of infant mortalities as America, the comparison country will have half the “zero year olds” dragging down the statistics (because we bother to count them).

Additionally, since America has a higher murder and suicide rate than the average OECD nation, that too drags down our lifespan statistics relative to others.

But how many of these variables have to do with the quality of American vs. socialized medicine? None whatsoever.

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