As Ezra Klein was pointing out yesterday the idea that Americans receive the best health care in the world is hard to support with evidence. Here’s a chart:
It also bears mentioning that it’s far from obvious that maximizing quality is the right policy objective. If the wacky statists in France were to implement a “minimum price” of 2,000 euros for a high-definition television you’d rapidly see France become the country with the “best” HDTVs in the world. Everything would have full 1080p resolution or be really big or what have you. Because when you can’t compete on price, you try to compete on quality. But in the real world, when you’re thinking about what’s a “better” or “worse” television situation, the price is relevant not just the quality.
Back to the health care case, it’s far from clear that the British system’s focus on cost containment is the wrong idea. There are certainly countries with better health care than the UK, but the practical impact of the international variation seems pretty small. Meanwhile, the much lower price the UK is paying has real benefits in terms of economic growth and the ability to make public investments elsewhere. Even if all you care about is health outcomes it probably makes more sense to focus on equity, cost containment, and the basics while focusing public expenditures on ways to make healthy lifestyle choices broadly available.