Buried at the Bottom
Normally, health issues are beyond our areas of interest, but for this AFP story, we'll make an exception. According to the story, cancer survival rates are up in Europe, with nations on the eastern side of the continent beginning to close the gap with their western neighbors.
Good news, right? Well, that actually depends on where you live. Read a bit more, and you'll see that the study actually takes a backhand swipe at Britain's government-run, national health care system. Turns out that the British system--sometimes cited as a potential model for universal care in the U.S.--has produced cancer survival rates that lag well behind the European average:
The study, published in the British journal The Lancet, showed a clear link between high rates of survival and the amount spent on health, but pointed out that Britain lagged well behind other countries with similar national health budgets.
An accompanying editorial in the influential journal called for a "fundamental reassessment" of Britain's cancer policy in light of the fact that survival rates were comparable to eastern European countries that spent two-thirds less.
"So has the cancer plan worked? The short answer is seemingly no," it concluded, suggesting that the National Health Service should be "divorced from political control and short-term political gains."
The 23-country study, the largest of its kind, said that the survival rate for the most common cancers -- colorectal, lung, breast and prostate -- and for ovarian cancer was highest in Nordic countries, with the exception of Denmark, and in central Europe.
It was somewhat lower in southern Europe, including Spain and Italy, lower still in Britain and Ireland, and lowest in eastern Europe.
According to The Lancet, Europe needs a "continent-wide" cancer plan, to promote more modern diagnostic and treatment facilities. Of course, that begs an obvious question: how can government-managed (and funded) health programs encourage cutting-edge solutions, in systems based on rationed care and cost controls? It a question that should also be posed to Democratic presidential candidates, who have been promising universal health care on the campaign trail.
Oh, in case you're wondering, the AFP article does get around to comparing cancer survival rates in Europe and the United States, but it's buried at the bottom of the story. We can only guess the reasoning behind that editorial decision, but the numbers from the study are revealing:
For patients diagnosed in 2000-2002, survival for patients across Europe with tumours was significantly lower than in the United States: 47.3 percent for men and 55.8 for women, compared to 66.3 and 62.9 percent respectively, the study noted.
Amazing, isn't it? The nation faulted for its failure to provide universal coverage has produced a significantly higher survival rate among cancer patients. Maybe that's why you see a number of wealthy European patients at U.S. hospitals and research centers. Waiting for their state-run system to provide needed care--or upgrade to newer treatments--could prove fatal.
The U.S. health care system is far from perfect. But its advantages are clearly illustrated in that European study, even if no one wants to acknowledge it.