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America's Healthcare System Ranks The Lowest Among Industrialized Nations

Aug 18, 2007
The U.S. doesn't get its money's worth when it comes to health care, according to recent statistics. The Commonwealth Fund released a report earlier this month on America's ranking in the world health care system -- and it wasn't good.

According to the report, residents of the United States receive the poorest quality of care, yet pay the most for it, among six of the top industrialized nations, including Germany, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The findings were based on measures including quality, access, efficiency, equity, and outcomes of health care. Germany took the overall first place ranking, followed by Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

While the other five nations on the list provide universal health care, the U.S., with its unorganized mixture of employer-funded care, private insurance, and government programs, leaves nearly 48 million throughout the country with no insurance whatsoever. Ominously, the Fund also linked lack of insurance with poorer quality of care in another report released this month.

Texas ranks at the very bottom of the nation in numbers of people left uninsured, at just over 25%. With high incidences of poverty, unemployment, and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, the state stands to gain more than most by measures to update the health care and/or to make insurance available to more of the population. Most of those lacking insurance do not receive pertinent preventative care, resulting in increased long-term costs to health, as well as to the state and federal governments.

Particularly in the larger cities of Dallas, Houston, and Austin -- where many from rural areas of the state come seeking care, overburdening the system further -- change would be welcomed.

Activists and members of Congress are calling for an overhaul of the overburdened and outdated system, with suggestions ranging from instituting America's own universal health care, to subsidizing private insurance companies in order to make health care coverage available to all, regardless of income.

Obviously, it's an issue that needs to be closely analyzed, as it is "pretty undisputable that we spend twice what other countries spend on average," as reported by The Commonwealth Fund. While, in comparison to other industrialized nations, the U.S. has the fewest patients seeing a regular doctor (16%), is the least wired (working with the fewest electronic records, and receiving the fewest electronic updates on disease treatment options), and has one of the highest infant mortality rates, we are actually spending twice as much per capita on health care as Germany, at $6,102. Canada spends $3,165 per capita, Australia $2,876, Britain $2,546, and New Zealand $2,083.

The U.S. also has one of the longest emergency room waiting times, takes an average of four months to deliver elective surgery, and is considered one of the less "convenient" nations when it comes to general health care. Sixty-one percent of Americans surveyed found it "somewhat" or "very difficult" to receive care on nights or weekends.

What is most shocking perhaps, is the relatively high infant mortality rate, at 5 in every 1,000. The U.S. is tied with Poland, Hungary, Malta, and Slovakia for this statistic, and, among the 32 industrialized nations surveyed, ranked only above Latvia, at 6 in every 1,000 births. Japan, the Czech Republic, Finland, Iceland, and Norway beat the U.S. by a landslide, at approximately one-third the death rate. Every year, 16,000 newborn deaths occur in this country, mostly linked with low birth weights and premature delivery. This suggests a surprising lack of prenatal care and, indeed, measures of mothers' well-being ranks extremely low in comparison to other industrialized nations.

African-Americans suffer almost twice the national average of infant mortality, at 9 in every 1,000 -- which is closer to developing nations' statistics than to industrialized ones. Black babies born in the U.S. are also twice as likely to be premature and have a low birth rate than their white counterparts.

Throw in scandals -- like drug companies enticing doctors with "free" gifts and dinners to sell their medications, or multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company investments in medical schools -- and it looks like a gloomy picture, indeed. Michael Moore's summer release of Sicko, though sure to be controversial, undeniably raises a subject on the national consciousness.

While it is painfully obvious that something must be done -- and quickly -- the next step is not so clear. States such as Hawaii and Massachusetts have taken their own initiatives with state-provided health insurance, resulting in nearly 90% of their residents having insurance, and therefore better access to care. California has debated its own measures, as well as many Midwestern states.

It's not a straight-forward debate, by any means. While nations providing universal health care rank higher in overall standings, the U.S. is still considered a leader when it comes to breakthrough technologies and treatment options. A balance must be struck between revolutionary research and making sure more people actually have access to its results. Reports on new HIV drugs, for instance, hint that turning HIV and AIDS into a chronic, versus fatal, condition is just around the corner...but those medications are expensive, and not everyone in the U.S. has access to them.

Residents of the U.S., however, have done little to push the initiative. The surprising lack of attention on the issue in political debates reflects the fact that voters do not choose their candidate primarily based on his or her plans for future health care reform. And, time and again, it has been proven that the masses' outspoken push for measures is what gets things done on Capitol Hill. In the end, it's really time for us -- the people -- to decide how to dig ourselves out of this one.

Making sure you receive quality health care is important. Taking care of yourself affects your health, and will certainly affect your health as you age -- and eventually your wallet, as well.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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