Another major gauge of health is infant mortality. As the report’s authors point out, the U.S. has the highest infant-mortality rate among high-income countries. Again, this isn’t a good indicator of the quality of the American health-care system. The elevated U.S. rate is a function of both the technological advancement of American hospitals and discrepancies in how different countries define a live birth.
Doctors in the U.S. are much more aggressive than foreign counterparts about trying to save premature babies. Thousands of babies that would have been declared stillborn in other countries and never given a chance at life are saved in the U.S. As a result, the percentage of preterm births in America is exceptionally high—65% higher than in Britain, and about double the rates in Finland and Greece.
Unfortunately, some of the premature babies that American hospitals try to save don’t make it. Their deaths inflate the overall infant mortality rate. But most premature babies are saved, largely because America’s medical research community is exceptionally innovative. There’s a laundry list of modern medical advancements used to treat a premature baby: suction devices to clear the baby’s mouth and lungs of amniotic fluid, miniature catheters to deliver vital fluids and medications, and emergency incubators equipped with sophisticated temperature-regulation technologies.
Thanks to such technologies, the U.S. neonatal mortality rate has dropped to just 5% today from 95% in the 1960s.