01 October 2007

Cancer & single-payer

Timothy Noah over at Slate has a good article examining the right's new health care canard (they found something beyond waiting times for nonemergency surgery in Canada!) Turns out we need to be scared, real scared, as W might say, of dyin' of cancer if single-payer becomes the law of the land.

See, the Lancet came out with a study that shows the British cancer survival rates for five years out are far less than ours — near the bottom, in fact of 23 European countries — all of which have universal health care, virtually all of which do so through public financing. How that shows that single-payer is to blame is hard to say.

In fact, looking at the entire chart, Noah points out that with the exception of Britain, wealth correlates with survival rates. So what's with Britain?

It's hard to say, but one reader notes that the entire debate is a bit off kilter, since in fact:
The biggest determinant of cancer survival statistics is something called lead time bias - people only appear to live longer because they are diagnosed earlier; the relationship between early detection and cure for most cancers is weak. In addition, some cancers detected by early screening grow so slowly that they are unlikely to cause problems for an elderly person before he or she dies of something else. As a result, in most developed countries, increased cancer survival times and cure rates correlate with increasing cancer rates but its largely an illusion of more agressive testing.
Scary if true. The good news is that Europe probably has fewer cancers to begin with because their environmental regulations are stronger and their auto lobby wasn't powerful enough to destroy all of their mass transit, biking, and pedestrian options. So people move more with fewer toxins.

Plus, early detection and prevention is indeed good for most ailments. Like, say, appendicitis.

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