Kate Sheppard reads Foreign Policy on what makes a country healthy:

A lot of the key strengths come from policy initiatives: government-sponsored pre-work workouts in Japan; extensive, government-funded prenatal and natal care in Iceland as well as three months of paid professional leave for both parents; holistic social care in Sweden, which includes comprehensive health care and safer streets for evening strolls; and a high number of doctors per-capita in Cuba. The biggest threat to the health of three of the five they list: the importation of the American diet.

Kate's takeaway is that "even with a shiny, new, comprehensive, universal health care plan in place sometime soon, it's going to take a lot more to make Americans healthy." Mine is a bit different. Basically, insofar as we want to improve public health we should worry primarily about ways to improve Americans' diet and exercise and so forth. The case for reform of the health care finance system has more to do with the finance than with the health, we're talking about a redistributive reform that would give peace of mind to a broad swathe of the population that they could avoid illness-related financial catastrophe and would encourage labor market flexibility and entrepreneurship. There are ways for health care reform to make people healthier (statins, more aggressive prenatal and preventive care, etc.) but realistically health care systems aren't that important as a determinant of aggregate health outcomes and the case for reform is primarily about other things.

Photo by Flickr user Jeff Kubina used under a Creative Commons license

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