When it comes to health, clearly the United States has been doing something wrong: we’re spending the most and getting not a whole lot out of it.
In a report released by the Commonwealth Fund this month, the United States came in dead last when compared to 10 other industrial countries and their health care systems. In fact, in the last decade, the United States has failed to move up from the last spot. Countries were ranked on how much they spent on healthcare as well as key areas like quality care, access, efficiency and overall “healthy lives,” in which the United States came in last.
In 2011, the United States spent $8,508 per person on health care. Compare that to the $3,406 that first place ranked United Kingdom spent. Yet despite that spending, Americans have the hardest time affording the health care that they need. In fact, according to the report “the U.S. ranks last on every measure of cost-related access. More than one-third (37%) of U.S. adults reported forgoing a recommended test, treatment, or follow-up care because of cost.”
The top three countries in the study were the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Sweden.
There is a glimmer of hope, though. All of the data was collected before the Affordable Healthcare Act kicked in, something that the authors see as impetus for the United States to move forward in the rankings.
“It is disappointing, but not surprising, that despite our significant investment in health care, the U.S. has continued to lag behind other countries,” said lead author Karen Davis in a press release. “With enactment of the Affordable Care Act, however, we have entered a new era in American health care. The U.S. performance on insurance coverage and access to care should begin to improve, particularly for low-income Americans. The Affordable Care Act is also expanding the availability and quality of primary care, which should help all Americans have better care and better health outcomes at lower cost.”
But there’s room for improvement, and even the countries that are on the top of the list today weren’t always there. In 2004, the United Kingdom ranked third of the five nations studied, yet today the country is at the top. “They’re not your grandmother’s national health service any more,” Davis told the Washington Post. “They really have moved up over time. A lot of it has been systematic attention to increasing resources in the system.” That meant hiring more specialists, offering bonuses to family physicians who hit quality targets and improving systems so that physicians can easily share information about patients.
All of those changes are possible in the United States as well, it will just require the political willpower to do it. Let’s hope that in a few years we move up a few spots. Our health depends on it.
Photo Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives