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One of the excellent aspects of the current American health care system is that most people can get immediate help if they become very ill. Not true in places like Canada or the UK, where waiting lines for crucial imaging tests can range in the several months—months that for cancer patients can mean the difference between living and dying.

I decided to do a little research on cancer survival rates, and it turns out USA is # 1.  From the fact sheet put out in 07 from the National Center for Policy Analysis:

According to the survey of cancer survival rates in Europe and the United States, published recently in Lancet Oncology : 

  • American women have a 63 percent chance of living at least five years after a cancer diagnosis, compared to 56 percent for European women.  [See Figure I.] U.S. Cancer Care Is Number One. fig1

  • American men have a five-year survival rate of 66 percent — compared to only 47 percent for European men.

  • Among European countries, only Sweden has an overall survival rate for men of more than 60 percent.

  • For women, only three European countries (Sweden, Belgium and Switzerland) have an overall survival rate of more than 60 percent.

These figures reflect the care available to all Americans, not just those with private health coverage.  Great Britain, known for its 50-year-old government-run, universal health care system, fares worse than the European average:  British men have a five-year survival rate of only 45 percent; women, only 53 percent.

But what about Canada, Wesley?  Canada is the ideal of single payer health care:
Canada’s system of national health insurance is often cited as a model for the United States.  But an analysis of 2001 to 2003 data by June O’Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, and economist David O’Neill, found that overall cancer survival rates are higher in the United States than in Canada: 

  • For women, the average survival rate for all cancers is 61 percent in the United States, compared to 58 percent in Canada.

  • For men, the average survival rate for all cancers is 57 percent in the United States, compared to 53 percent in Canada.

U.S. Cancer Care Is Number One. fig2

Early diagnosis is the key, which gets us to the crucial screening issue:
It is often claimed that people have better access to preventive screenings in universal health care systems. But despite the large number of uninsured, cancer patients in the United States are most likely to be screened regularly, and once diagnosed, have the fastest access to treatment. For example, a Commonwealth Fund report showed that women in the United States were more likely to get a PAP test for cervical cancer every two years than women in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Great Britain, where health insurance is guaranteed by the government.

* In the United States, 85 percent of women aged 25 to 64 years have regular PAP smears, compared with 58 percent in Great Britain.
* The same is true for mammograms; in the United States, 84 percent of women aged 50 to 64 years get them regularly — a higher percentage than in Australia, Canada or New Zealand, and far higher than the 63 percent of British women.

This is a very important aspect of the current debate. Reform is necessary to increase access of our uninsured to these very services. But destroying what works for the vast majority of Americans to accommodate the needs of the few—when that matter could be corrected with a far less draconian approach—must not be allowed to succeed.

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