June 2, 2006 10:15AM

Canadians Are Healthier

I wish that I had the knack for making a media splash the way some people can. For instance, when Harvard’s Karen Lasser and some fellow health care researchers recently released a goofball telephone survey of health care, the media werere all over it.

Here’s a closer look at the gap between the United States and Canada on various health conditions:

  • Obesity: 20.7 percent of U.S. respondents; 15.3 percent of Canadian respondents.
  • Sedentary lifestyle: 13.6 percent of U.S. respondents; 6.5 percent of Canadian respondents.
  • Diabetes: 6.7 percent of U.S. respondents; 4.7 percent of Canadian respondents.
  • High blood pressure: 18.3 percent of U.S. respondents; 13.9 percent of Canadian respondents.
  • Arthritis: 17.9 percent of U.S. respondents; 16 percent of Canadian respondents.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): 1.9 percent of U.S. respondents; 1 percent of Canadian respondents

Wow, that Canadian health care system is amazing! Look at the big difference in “sedentary lifestyle.” That’s obviously due to the fact that they have socialized medicine and we don’t — or so the reasoning goes:

“Compared with Canadians, U.S. residents are one‐​third less likely to have a regular medical doctor, one‐​fourth more likely to have unmet health care needs, and are more than twice as likely to forgo needed medicines,” write Lasser and colleagues.

They add that “problems accessing medical care are particularly dire for the U.S. uninsured,” and that while both countries had racial gaps in health, those gaps were wider in the U.S.

But why did Lasser et al. conduct their own telephone survey of Americans? The Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a larger and more reliable study of U.S. health care consumers, would have been a perfectly reasonable source to use. The “gaps” may be a little harder to find, though. The average health care spending of people below the poverty line was slightly above that of people above the poverty line — and far above that of people in Canada.

In deference to supporters of government‐​run health care, we ought to try a single‐​payer system at a state level in the United States. Then we could see whether having a single‐​payer system magically improves everyone’s lifestyle, access to doctors, and so forth. Until then, we have this “grass is greener” outlook on Canadian health care in the media, and any attempt at a reality check is fruitless.