Comparative neonatal care

Another strike against the claims of inferior US health care:

More than 100 Canadian women with high-risk pregnancies have been sent to United States hospitals over the past year – in what a doctors’ group attributes to the lack of a national birthing plan. The problem has peaked, with British Columbia and Ontario each sending a record number of women to U.S. neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Specifically, 80 B.C. women have been sent to U.S. hospitals since April 1, 2007; in Ontario, 28 have been sent since January of 2007, according to figures from the respective health ministries.

André Lalonde, executive vice-president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, said the problem is due to bed closings that took place almost a decade ago, the absence of a national birthing initiative and too few staff.

This is, of course, yet another example of the Law of Supply and Demand in operation. Canada’s socialized health care has used government force to reduce the price of health care, thereby increasing demand. This inevitably means a shortfall in health care supply; one of the areas where this shortfall is exhibiting itself is in neonatal care.

If you read the article, it’s not merely a case of mothers and newborns being sent to the USA, but a decline in the quality of the care provided as well. This is, of course, entirely predictable. But how does one explain the superior state of Swedish neonatal care, which is also part of a socialized health care system? In two ways.

First, as I mentioned in TIA, US neonatal care is judged by a higher standard. Underweight babies that are not counted as live births by European statisticians are counted in the USA because they actually have a shot at life due to the USA’s superior technology. This has a serious impact on the overall survival rate and thus the statistical rankings. Second, the Swedish birth rate has dropped from 2.5 per woman to 1.8 since 1965, (and from 4.0 in 1900); this non-price related reduction in demand has to some extent alleviated the pressure on supply created by the government-imposed price reductions. Canada’s birth rate also declined, but by 30 percent less than Sweden’s.

And, of course, it’s entirely possible that Sweden simply expends more of its limited resources on neonatal care than does Canada but shortchanges other groups in need of medical attention.