United States Pays the Most for Healthcare and is Still the Sickest

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


JM A3 years ago


carl b.
carl b3 years ago

Having been used to the German health care system and now the U.S. HMO- wow.
Sky high premiums, huge deductibles, no dental, no vision care, no oral surgeon, no choice of doctors, bureaucracy, waiting times, overpriced medicines from a pot in the pharmacy with a little sticker instead of comprehensive info- you have to see it to believe it. Obamacare is a huge improvement, but still safely the bottom of the barrel.

Sue L.
Sue L3 years ago

This a complicated issue but it is up to each individual to be an advocate for herself.

Arild Warud

You need to a free globally health system.

Deborah W.
Deborah W3 years ago

Those who work in the healthcare field on the ground and in the trenches, or shuffle through the mounds of paperwork and regulations to estimate applicable charges, while physicians travel from one of their offices or assigned facilities to another (which greatly reduces patient follow up to a bare minimum and leaves the details to others -- an overworked, understaffed and underpaid collection of mostly disgruntled co-workers).

If you've had personal family or friend dealings you know exactly what the problem is ... money first, the most that can be raked in with the least amount of output. Nursing facilities have, for the most part, become holding pens for those no longer able to care for themselves, disregarded by family or happen to be the last in a family line and are left to the mercy of strangers who rarely interact beyond what's required to keep their job. The lucky ones die quickly.

The really good individuals devoted to doing the best for their charges are few and far between, and eventually burn out or quit after witnessing first-hand, on a daily basis, the laxity and corruption that takes place.

Plenty of room for change which, unfortunately, is not about to happen as long as the first consideration is MONEY.

Vasu M.
.3 years ago

A single payer health insurance system, as advocated by Dennis Kucinich, would be preferable. Single payer is NOT socialized medicine. That would be the Veterans Administration. Or the British health care system, where the government pays for the doctors and hospitals. Under single payer, you get a health care card and you can go to any doctor or hospital in the United States. Doctors are not employees of the government. Hospitals remain in private hands. You get free choice of doctor and hospital.

Single payer will NOT lead to rationing, "like in Canada." Currently, in the United States, the private health insurance companies ration care. If you do not have health insurance, you do not get health care. That's why 120 Americans die every day from lack of health care. There are some problems in the Canadian system, but most of what you hear about long lines is American health insurance propaganda. Zero people die every day in Canada due to lack of health insurance.

Medicines will be cheaper under single payer. Now you know why the drug industry is so opposed to single payer. All medically necessary care would be funded through the single payer, including doctor visits, hospital care, prescriptions, mental health services, home care, rehab, eye care, and dental care. No bills, no deductibles, and no co-pays. And you can go to see any doctor or check in to any hospital in the United States.

Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing, but no surprises here.

Gerald L.
Gerald L3 years ago

@ Linda M. a constellation of green stars

Cont - higher life expectancy, lower infant mortality, nobody loses their home to pay medical bills.....need I go on?

Luna starr
luna starr3 years ago

2 words; chemicals in food and chemicals given by doctors for ANYTHING

Linda McKellar
Past Member 3 years ago

Cont - higher life expectancy, lower infant mortality, nobody loses their home to pay medical bills.....need I go on?