Failures of the Free Market: US healthcare

One of the things that continues to amaze me about the US is that Americans seem to believe they have the best healthcare in the world.

Truth is, Americans have the most expensive healthcare in the world. A few of them have excellent healthcare, but most get the kind of treatment you’d get in a third world nation.

Bloated, blue-collar Americans—gorged on diets of fries and burgers, but denied their share of US riches—are bringing the nation’s steady rise in life expectancy to a halt.

Twenty years ago, the US, the richest nation on the planet, led the world’s longevity league. Today, American women rank 19th, while males can manage only 28th place, alongside men from Brunei.

These figures are blamed by researchers on two key factors: obesity, and inequality of health care. A man born in a poor area of Washington can have a life expectancy that is 40 years less than a woman in a prosperous neighbourhood only a few blocks away, for example.


In another newly published paper, statisticians at Boston College reveal that in France, Japan and Switzerland, men and women aged 65 now live several years longer than they do in the US. Indeed, America only just scrapes above Mexico and most East European nations.

This decline is astonishing given America’s wealth. Not only is it the richest nation, it devotes more gross domestic product ? 13 per cent ? to health care than any other developed nation.


When the Boston College group compared men and women in America’s top 10 per cent wage bracket with those in the bottom 10 per cent, they found the former group earned 17 times more than the latter. In Japan, Switzerland and Norway, this ratio is only five to one.

Jacobs and Morone state: ’Check-ups, screenings and vaccinations save lives, improve well-being, and are shockingly uneven [in America]. Well-insured people get assigned hospital beds; the uninsured get patched up and sent back to the streets.’ For poor Americans, health service provision is little better than that in third world nations. ’People die younger in Harlem than in Bangladesh,’ report Jacobs and Morone.

The Observer

This, to me, is another excellent example of the free market failing to do the job. We have a free market in insurance, choice of doctors, choice of drugs, choice of healthcare providers, and people pay their own way—so by the magic of the invisible hand, America should have the cheapest, most efficient universal healthcare in the world, yes? Much better than those state-run bureaucratic socialized European healthcare systems, certainly.

Yet, the reverse is true. America has worse healthcare and pays more for it.