The debunker: Think ObamaCare will save lives? Think again.

As the Supreme Court was preparing to consider whether the Constitution empowers the president to force American citizens to patronize a particular private industry, the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Bluey obtained a remarkable White House strategy memo. Administration officials, it reveals, are coordinating with liberal activist groups to pressure the court to ignore constitutional issues, and to focus instead on “real people and real benefits that would be lost if the law were overturned.”

The administration’s message is that the need for ObamaCare is so urgent that obstacles like the Constitution must be swept aside. Such trifles cannot be permitted to obstruct the United States from joining the civilized world of socialized medicine. After all, the U.S. has the most expensive and worst medical care of all industrialized nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international organization of (mostly) western democracies.


Let’s compare the actual results of pre-ObamaCare medicine in the U.S. with OECD averages, as reported by the OECD itself. Comparing the most common causes of death—heart attack, stroke and cancer—yields surprising results. Contrary to myth, average mortality rates in the OECD are actually higher than in the US across a wide range of such risks:

  • Heart attacks: the rate of in-hospital mortality following acute myocardial infarction: 26 percent higher
  • Strokes: 45 percent higher for women; 54 percent higher for men
  • Cancer: 5 percent higher for women; 11 percent higher for men
  • For the most common cancers, average OECD mortality rates are also higher than in the U.S.:
  • Prostate cancer: 28 percent higher
  • Colorectal cancer: 32 percent higher
  • Cervical cancer: 52 percent higher

For breast cancer, the 5-year survival rate in the U.S. is 7 percent higher than the OECD average. But perhaps the most perfect comparison is between the U.S. and Canada. In both countries, smoking rates fell from 42 percent in 1965 to 16 percent in 2009, but Canada has a European-style single-payer health system. The result: the mortality rate for men with lung cancer is 5 percent higher in Canada than in the U.S.

All this excess mortality under socialized medicine means that many people in the OECD die unnecessarily. ObamaCare, bringing this system to the U.S., means that many Americans will face the same fate—although these are probably not the “real people” the administration wants the court to focus on.

Okay, so socialized medicine kills people. At least it’s cheap.

Or is it? Has any democracy ever spent less on medical care after increasing government involvement? U.S. government spending on medical care was relatively constant, at about one percent of GDP, until 1965. That year marks a sharp inflection point, ending this period of relative stability and beginning our era of runaway spending. What happened that year? Medicare and Medicaid were enacted.

“Source: Christopher Chantrill., Time Series Chart of US Government Spending. Health Care: Fiscal Years 1950 to 2010.”

Indeed, over the last decade real per capita healthcare spending in those OECD countries most frequently mentioned as models for the U.S. to emulate grew at rates comparable to the United States.

“Source: OECD (2011), Health at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators (OECD Publishing), Annex A, Table A.6., p. 195.”

If future spending in the U.S. follows the pattern of these “models,” our medical costs under ObamaCare will go up, not down.

In sum, if the court sustains ObamaCare, we will have surrendered the constitutional freedom for which generations of Americans have given—and are still giving—their lives, for the privilege of paying more, so that more Americans can die.

Are these what Obama considers “real benefits that would be lost if the law were overturned?”


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