Some while ago, when Susie and I were sitting in our favorite café in Paris, we remarked on the large number of young couples strolling by with baby carriages. “Hm,” I thought to myself, “France must be experiencing a surge in births.” On the plane home, the attendant handed out free newspapers, and I chose a copy of USA Today [it was a Delta flight, so they had English language papers.] In it, I found a story about the declining French birth rate. It taught me a lesson about the uselessness of anecdotal evidence in forming an idea of a social phenomenon.
America is a very large country, so virtually any proposition one wishes to advance about health care can be confirmed by an anecdote about someone’s experience. I am sure that somewhere in this great country there is a 110 year old woman who swears that her long life is a consequence of smoking a pack of unfiltered cigarettes a day, drinking a fifth of whiskey daily, and never exercising. So as the Republican-controlled Congress prepares to repeal the Affordable Care Act and set its sights on Medicare, I thought I would assemble a few social statistics.
The average life expectancy in the United States is 79.68 years. The average life expectancy in the United Kingdom is 80.54 years; in France it is 81.75 years, two full years more than here. Infant mortality in the United States is 6.2 per 1000 live births. In the U.K., 4.8, in France 3.3, slightly more than half of what it is in America. What do we spend for health care? In the United States, 17.5% of GDP [Gross Domestic Product]. The French spend roughly 11%, the British 9%.
GDP in the U.S. last year was a tad over $18 trillion. If we could cut our expenditures on health to the French level, that would save 6.5% of GDP, which is to say roughly $1.17 trillion each year. If we accomplished this saving by adopting the French system of national health care, we might also perhaps add two years to everyone’s life, on average.
Maybe I should go back to France and sit in that café.