The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
US Healthcare: Gold Plated, but not Gold Standard

In sobering if not surprising news, a new study released Wednesday confirms that Americans are spending more on health care than the rest of the developed world and getting less bang for the buck. The Financial Times reports:

In comparison with Australia, Canada, Japan and many western European countries, the US ranks among the worst when measured by rates of infant mortality, injuries and homicides, obesity, lung disease and HIV prevalence. The US ranks 17 in overall life expectancy, held back by high rates of death among people under the age of 50.

The study cites a lack of access to health insurance, high rates of obesity and chronic disease, and a relatively weak social safety-net system as some of the reasons the US lags behind its peers. . . . The authors blame poor eating habits and infrastructure that discourages exercise as two of the biggest reasons for the US health gap.

It’s important to remember that studies like this one often over-dramatize America’s health problems. A country-by-country comparison of the U.S. with small, socially and ethnically homogeneous countries like Sweden or Denmark doesn’t tell the full story. And social factors not directly related to the quality of the health care system also play a major role in health spending, yet are rarely accounted for in comparative studies like these.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the U.S. system is not the most efficient in the world, and the increasing demands our society is placing on it are the most important single element of our serious long term budget woes. As we’ve said before, Obamacare won’t do much to change that. Fixing our health care system is an urgent, even make or break, priority going forward.

Readers can find the report brief here.

Published on January 11, 2013 9:00 am