Using Comparative Analysis to Address Health System Caricatures
To learn from health care systems abroad, we must move beyond simplistic characterizations and compare different systems with respect to salient performance measures. Despite findings from recent cross-national studies suggesting that many health care systems outperform the United States, claims by U.S. public officials often fail to acknowledge the actual accomplishments of health care systems abroad. We document significant variation among the United States and France, Germany, and England, which provide universal coverage, albeit in different ways. As previously documented, the United States has the highest rate of mortality amenable to health care. We extend this work by adding two indicators: (a) access to timely and effective primary care as measured by hospital discharges for avoidable hospital conditions; and (b) use of specialty services as indicated by coronary revascularization (bypass surgery and angioplasty), adjusted for the burden of coronary artery disease. Our findings indicate that: (a) the United States suffers the gravest consequences of financial barriers to primary care; (b) in all four countries, older people (65+) receive fewer revascularizations than their younger counterparts once we account for disease burden; and (c) in France, patients receive the most revascularizations, after adjusting for the burden of disease.