Newspaper article

U.S. Health Care System Given Poor Ranking (Again)

Newspaper article

U.S. Health Care System Given Poor Ranking (Again)

Article excerpt

A new report offers a comparative look at how some of the world's wealthiest countries keep their citizens healthy.

And once again, the United States has been given a poor ranking.

In fact, in the report, released Tuesday by the Commonwealth Fund, the United States came in dead last against seven European countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom), as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

First place went to the U.K., with Switzerland a close second.

The United States did do relatively well on two of the report's criteria. We ranked 3rd on "effective care," defined in the report as "services that are effective and appropriate for preventing or treating a given condition and controlling chronic illness." And we ranked 4th on "patient-centered care," defined as "care delivered with the patient's needs and preferences in mind."

But we did lousy in most of the other categories, including "access" (the ability to receive affordable and timely health care), "equity" (care that doesn't vary in quality due to gender, ethnicity, geographic location or socioeconomic status) and "healthy lives" (how well the medical care people receive keeps them healthy over the long term).

On the issue of access, for example, the report notes that 37 percent of Americans say that cost has kept them from visiting a doctor or clinic when they had a medical problem, or from receiving a recommended treatment, or from filling a prescription.

Only 4 percent of British citizens reported a similar problem.

And on the issue of long-term health, the report points out that "[t]he U.S. ranks last on mortality amenable to health care, last on infant mortality, and second-to-last on healthy life expectancy at age 60."

First in expenditures

The United States did outscore the other 10 countries in one category: the amount of money spent on health care. We spent an average of $8,508 per person on health care in 2011, which is far and away more than any of the other countries in this report. Norway came in second with per capita health care expenditures of $5,669. New Zealand was the country with the lowest health care burden -- $3,182 per person -- although the U.K. was not far behind at $3,405.

"The United States health care system is the most expensive in the world, but this report and prior editions [2004, 2006, 2007, and 2010] consistently show the U.S. underperforms relative to other countries on most dimensions of performance," write the authors of the report.

There is some hope, however. The data for this report is based on surveys of adults and primary care physicians taken in 2011-2013, before the Affordable Care Act became fully implemented. That law may lift our ranking in future reports, for it will increase the number of Americans with access to medical care. …

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