It was produced by Oliver Uberti and posted at the National Geographic Magazine's blog. It wound up on my Facebook after it was posted at Upworthy.com by Sara Critchfield with the comment, "It looks like that 'socialism' thing seems to be working out pretty well for the rest of the world." The little icon on the Upworthy page indicates that "27k" people have "liked" Critchfield's post on Facebook.
Critfield seems to want us to take away from the graph that countries with health care "socialism" have health outcomes that are generally comparable or a bit better than the United States. The author of the National Geographic blog post that originally accompanied the chart made a much more precise claim:
The United States spends more on medical care per person than any country, yet life expectancy is shorter than in most other developed nations and many developing ones... The U.S. has a fee-for-service system—paying medical providers piecemeal for appointments, surgery, and the like. That can lead to unneeded treatment that doesn’t reliably improve a patient’s health.Here are my thoughts on the chart in the order in which they occurred to me:
1. Ubertis's post is correct in one key respect: There is basically no relationship between health care spending and life expectancy at birth in this small set of developed and developing countries. Even within the group of universal health care countries, there is an awful lot of noise in the relationship between spending and life expectancy.
2. If non-universal health care is so awful, why is life expectancy in Mexico so good?
3. Life expectancy seems like its has more to do with development than health care. Developing countries have life expectancies clustering loosely around 75, developing countries cluster around 80. I am sure we could track down some data on under-developed countries with some kind of universal care showing that their life expectancies are well below the 75-ish year mark we see in the small number of developing countries shown here.
4. Beyond making sure that most people have access to some pretty basic stuff (e.g. childhood vaccines, antibiotics, medically supervised child birth, etc.), spending more money on health care won't help people live much longer since most people don't use much health care until they are old.
5. I would bet that Americans' diet (fatty, salty) and lifestyle (sedentary with lots of driving and, therefore, exposure to accident risks) has a lot more to do with our marginally lower life expectancy than anything related to how we deliver health care.
6. Given that Americans, as a group, live a less healthy life in many ways than Western Europeans or Japanese, it may simply cost more money to keep us, as a group, living as long as we do.
7. How long someone lives is a really crude measure of "health." Eliminating or rationing care for non-life threatening health conditions could certainly reduce total health care costs without injuring a country's life expectancy. Are other countries achieving these "savings" because they have moved away from private health care or a fee-for-service model, or do they simply provide a smaller ranger of services on a less frequent basis? Might people in other countries choose to spend more on health care to improve the range and availability of health care options if that were an option?