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The Pandemic Proves U.S. Healthcare Is Underrated

Considering how much strain the system is under, Americans are not dying of COVID-19 at the rate of other nations in the Anglosphere

The U.S. has struggled to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Ranging from culture to official directives to nursing home policies, how a country does in stopping the spread and encouraging mask wearing and social distancing has to do with a wide array of factors.

The U.S. has had more than its fair share of mask refusal and absurd federal and state policies (including a certain governor mandating that nursing homes accept COVID-19 patients). Despite this, U.S. coronavirus deaths as a share of total cases remains lower than most other developed nations, including other nations in the Anglosphere such as the U.K., Ireland, Canada, and Australia. This large discrepancy has everything to do with the U.S. healthcare system, which provides exemplary care even if at far-too-high a price.

This pandemic should be a teachable moment for policymakers looking to make the U.S. healthcare system more like the systems of other developed countries. 

If we look at the most recent data from Worldometer (as of 1/11), the U.S. is ranked no. 11 in deaths per capita for all countries reporting data. The U.S. has about the same adjusted tally as the U.K. and has fewer fatalities per capita than hard-hit countries such as the Czech Republic, Italy, and Belgium. On this measure, however, the U.S. is higher than France, Germany, Canada, Australia, and all of the Nordic nations. But if we switch the measure to “deaths per cases,” we find that the U.S. is doing better than most other developed countries.

In the U.S., about 1.7 percent of coronavirus cases have resulted in death, compared to 2.7 percent in the U.K., 3.2 percent in Australia, 2.6 percent in Canada, 2.2 percent in Germany, and 2.4 percent in France. Harder-hit countries such as Italy, Spain, and Belgium all have case fatality rates north of 2.5 percent. 

Long story short: it appears that if you happen to come down with the coronavirus, the U.S. is a pretty good place to be. These figures are hardly surprising since cancer survival rates across the developed world paint a similar picture. Sure, the U.S. may have higher rates of some cancers owing to our uniquely unhealthy culture. But, cancer sufferers in the U.S. tend to have among the highest survival rates in the developed world. This could be a result of “lead-time bias,” in that the U.S. is simply better at detecting cancers early and thus survival times look longer on paper. Even if that is the case, though, these statistics are a powerful indicator of the effectiveness of the U.S. healthcare system. After all, most of the increase in cancer survival over the past half-century has been due to the correlation between better early detection and the beginning of treatment. 

These statistics for coronavirus and various cancers confirm the United States’ unique talent in identifying and heavily investing in lifesaving medical technologies. The vast majority of medical trials using CAR T cells to beat back cancer have been conducted in the U.S., with Europe a distant third behind America and China. Meanwhile, there is far more attention and investment into telehealth in the U.S. compared to Western European nations, which among other things may have eased U.S. transitions to remote care during the pandemic. 

While America’s healthcare technology is the envy of the world, costs unfortunately remain far too high. Pundits and lawmakers have proposed lowering costs through federal fiat and price controls, but these “reforms” usually only succeed in slashing access to lifesaving cures and technologies. The better approach is by empowering consumers to have more “skin” in the game and shop around for higher quality products at more affordable prices. Whenever consumers have the opportunity to shop around for healthcare products (e.g. laser eye surgery, blood pressure tests, genetic testing), prices have reliably decreased

Policymakers should examine ways to allow shopping around for more healthcare services, including directly depositing dollars in low-income Americans’ tax-free health savings accounts. Low costs coupled with cutting-edge care will help America beat the coronavirus and help improve patients’ quality of life. 

Ross Marchand is a senior fellow for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

Ross Marchand is a Catalyst Policy Fellow and the director of policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. He focuses on a range of issues, ranging from health-care reform to internet regulation to Postal Service-related issues. Ross is an alumnus of the Mercatus Center MA Fellowship at George Mason University, where he received his MA in economics in 2016. He has interned for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, analyzing and blogging on a variety of public policy issues.
Catalyst articles by Ross Marchand