John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 13, 2009

Occasionally when I have found myself in the midst of conversations regarding medical conditions and health care, I have decided that I am in the wrong company and that I need to find younger and healthier conversation.

Yet inevitably, before I have been able to tactfully disengage from the self-obsessed crowd, I will have heard mentioned “socialized medicine” in the dismissive tone of voice that those italics imply inprint. Lately I’ve been wondering if socialized medicine is as contemptible as that tone with which we have come to dismiss it. Instead, have vested parties influenced us toward this contempt?

In whose interest is it — doctors, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, hospitals or all of them — that we would learn to so disparage the idea of socialized medicine?

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Usually further discussion of socialized medicine is accompanied by some anecdote involving long waiting periods or nonavailability of some type of elective medical care.


Usually those stories about some patient who had to wait six months for bypass surgery or whatever is alleged to have happened in either Canada, France or England, all of which have different versions socialized medicine.

So I looked online.

The average life expectancy for residents of Canada, France and England is longer than for residents of this country. Canada ranks eighth in the life expectancy of its citizens at 80.87 years; France ninth at 80.74; and England 36th at 78.85 years. The U. S. at 78.14 years ranks 46th among nations in the life expectancy of its citizens, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s factbook which can be found at  whose rankings can be found at

Granted the difference between our 78.14 years and England’s 78.85 years is slight — seven tenths of a year or about 259 days, but longevity is an accepted, nonanecdotal standard that nations use to compare quality of health care.

The nation with the highest average longevity among its citizens is the former Portuguese colony of Macau on the southeast coast of China. Its citizens average a lifetime of 84.33 years.  

Another accepted standard of comparison of a population’s health care is infant mortality rate. How does the U. S. compare with those same nations with socialized medicine when it comes to infant mortality rate?

Again, those three countries selected for having socialized medicine have better records. France ranks sixth lowest infant mortality rate among the 222 nation’s listed by the CIA. France loses 3.36 per 1,000 babies during their first year of life. England ranks 29th with 4.93 deaths. Canada 32nd lowest infant mortality rate with 5.8 deaths per 1,000 babies. The U. S. is 43rd with 6.3 baby deaths per 1,000. Even Cuba does better than the U. S. in infant mortality with 5.93 deaths per thousand.

Other notable nations, most recognized as having some form of socialized medicine, that outrank the U. S. in both of those measurements of health care performance include Japan, Israel, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Norway, Germany, South Korea and Australia.

Think about it, then ask yourself in whose interest is it that we always speak of socialized medicine disparagingly. But don’t think too hard or you might find yourself thinking like a liberal