Lodi News-Sentinel

U.S. leads world in health-care spending yet key health outcomes lag, study says

- Michelle Fay Cortez

The U.S. spends as much as three times more on health care per person as other high-income countries, yet residents are often less likely to visit doctors, according to a report that highlights poor returns for the nation’s large investment.

The pandemic has widened discordanc­es between medical spending and health results in the U.S. and the rest of the world, findings from the Commonweal­th Fund study show. The only high-income country that doesn’t guarantee access to health care, the U.S. spent almost 18% of its gross domestic product on health and related services in 2021.

The report adds to a litany of indicting data from the U.S., where half of adults are worried about medical costs that sometimes force them to delay or forgo care, according to a recent study, and life expectancy of 77 years ranks 39th among all nations. One glaring problem is that Americans visit the doctor just four times a year, trailing most other wealthy countries, perhaps because of cost and a lack of practicing physicians, the authors said.

The American health system “can seem designed to discourage people from using services,” they wrote in the report, U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspectiv­e, 2022: Accelerati­ng Spending, Worsening Outcomes. “High out-of-pocket costs lead nearly half of working-age adults to skip or delay getting needed care.”

The U.S. spends $10,687 per person each year on health-care programs and insurance, plus another $1,225 for household out-of-pocket costs, the research found. That compares to less than $4,000 for both components in South Korea, the lowest of 13 countries the group tracked, and just over $7,000 in Germany, the second-biggest spender after the U.S.

Yet Americans are seen by doctors less than half as often as people in the Netherland­s, Germany, Japan and Korea, and the U.S. has fewer physicians per patient than any other member nation of the Organizati­on for Economic Co-operation and Developmen­t, according to the report. Hospital stays, less than five days on average, are also shorter than those in peer countries.

The pandemic has taken an exceptiona­lly high toll on the U.S., which has the highest Covid death rate of any country. Avoidable deaths from ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure and preventabl­e cancers outstrip every other wealthy country, the researcher­s said. The U.S. also leads wealthy nations in infant and maternal mortality.

Other vulnerable population­s include Black Americans, who die four years younger on average than Whites, while American Indians and Alaska Natives die seven years sooner.

The findings “demonstrat­e the importance of a health-care system that supports chronic disease prevention and management, the early diagnosis and treatment of medical problems, affordable access to health-care coverage, and cost-containmen­t,” the researcher­s concluded. “Other countries have found ways to do these things well; the U.S. can as well.”

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