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On the "Cancer Survival Rate" Factoid

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Ezra assesses the meaning of the fact that the United States ranks #1 in cancer survival rates, which seems likely to be adduced frequently by apologists for the indefensible American health care system:

Moreover, simply having the highest survival rates isn’t a particularly useful metric of whether we’re getting good value for our money. Our 5-year cancer survival rate, according to the study Andrew links, is 62.9%. Italy’s is 59%. Italy spends about $2,532 per person. America spends about $6,100. And these numbers, incidentally, are adjusted for purchasing power parity. Then there’s the question of who our treatment is best for. Not the poor. Studies show significantly lower mortality rates for the low-income cancer patients in Canada than in the US. Is this all a good deal? Maybe. But Sullivan should explain why we should believe that.

At the end of the day, the question is never American health care: Good or bad. It’s whether it can be better. It’s whether we get good value for our dollar. It would be absurd if a system that spends twice what anyone else does didn’t demonstrate superiority in some areas. The question is why so few, and why by such minor margins (a percent or two, in this case). It baffles me — genuinely baffles me — that conservatives seem so intent on defending an obviously bad deal.

Let’s be frank: conservertarians are as unlikely to do a cost/benefit analysis of American health care as they were with the Iraq War.

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