THE PLANK FEBRUARY 1, 2007
I was wondering what Rick Santorum's been up to lately. He's now a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, spending his days warning everyone that "government-run medicine" is "worst of what Europe has to teach us." Nothing too novel there, but then he brings this up:
"If you look at Canada and cancer survival rates in Canada, [they] are a third of what they are here in the United States simply because people can't get access to care," he notes. "If you're really sick in Canada, you just don't treated because it's a rationing based on money ...."
Is there any basis for this? Doesn't look like it. A 1997 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that "relative [cancer] survival rates were similar for American and Canadian patients." Breast cancer was the sole exception--American patients have a higher survival rate, owing to a greater use of mammograms in the United States. A 2004 study in Health Affairs found the same thing: Canadian survival rates were superior for colorectal cancer and childhood leukemia, similar for cervical cancer, and somewhat worse for breast cancer.
While we're at it, a separate 1997 study in the AJPH discovered something else: If you look within the United States, low-income Americans have significantly lower survival rates than high-income Americans for 12 of 15 types of cancer. That disparity doesn't really exist in Canada. Low-income Canadians, meanwhile, had higher survival rates than their American counterparts for 13 of 15 types of cancer. So there's plenty of "rationing based on money" going on right here in the United States--namely, the poor are less likely to get proper care. (As an added bonus, we can debunk the myth that Canadians are rushing to the United States in droves to get treatment.)
Now, that's not to say the United States should adopt a health care system exactly like Canada's--there are plenty of other systems around the world we could emulate; see Ezra Klein's series on the subject. (As a side note, Santorum seems to be conflating "government-run medicine," which Canada and England have, with "government-run insurance," which is what Medicare is, and which is the far left position on health care reform in this country--no one's proposing we nationalize hospitals and whatnot, ala Canada.) Still, it would be nice if Santorum didn't go around making stuff up.