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U.S. health system ranks last among 11 high-income countries


 

The U.S. health care system ranked last overall among 11 high-income countries in an analysis by the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund, according to a report released on Aug. 4.

The report is the seventh international comparison of countries’ health systems by the Commonwealth Fund since 2004, and the United States has ranked last in every edition, David Blumenthal, MD, president of the Commonwealth Fund, told reporters during a press briefing.

Researchers analyzed survey answers from tens of thousands of patients and physicians in 11 countries. They analyzed performance on 71 measures across five categories – access to care, care process, administrative efficiency, equity, and health care outcomes. Administrative data were gathered from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Health Organization.

Among contributors to the poor showing by the United States is that half (50%) of lower-income U.S. adults and 27% of higher-income U.S. adults say costs keep them from getting needed health care.

“In no other country does income inequality so profoundly limit access to care,” Dr. Blumenthal said.

In the United Kingdom, only 12% with lower incomes and 7% with higher incomes said costs kept them from care.

In a stark comparison, the researchers found that “a high-income person in the U.S. was more likely to report financial barriers than a low-income person in nearly all the other countries surveyed: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K.”

Norway, the Netherlands, and Australia were ranked at the top overall in that order. Rounding out the 11 in overall ranking were the U.K., Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States.

“What this report tells us is that our health care system is not working for Americans, particularly those with lower incomes, who are at a severe disadvantage compared to citizens of other countries. And they are paying the price with their health and their lives,” Dr. Blumenthal said in a press release.

“To catch up with other high-income countries, the administration and Congress would have to expand access to health care, equitably, to all Americans, act aggressively to control costs, and invest in the social services we know can lead to a healthier population.”

High infant mortality, low life expectancy in U.S.

Several factors contributed to the U.S. ranking at the bottom of the outcomes category. Among them are that the United States has the highest infant mortality rate (5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births) and lowest life expectancy at age 60 (living on average 23.1 years after age 60), compared with the other countries surveyed. The U.S. rate of preventable mortality (177 deaths per 100,000 population) is more than double that of the best-performing country, Switzerland.

Lead author Eric Schneider, MD, senior vice president for policy and research at the Commonwealth Fund, pointed out that, in terms of the change in avoidable mortality over a decade, not only did the United States have the highest rate, compared with the other countries surveyed, “it also experienced the smallest decline in avoidable mortality over that 10-year period.”

The U.S. maternal mortality rate of 17.4 deaths per 100,000 live births is twice that of France, the country with the next-highest rate (7.6 deaths per 100,000 live births).

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