US spends most on health care, gets less

US spends most on health care, gets less


May 3, 2012 • Reprints

Though America spends more on health care than 12 other industrialized countries, the quality isn’t  better, a new study from The Commonwealth Fund finds.

The U.S. spent nearly $8,000 per person for health care services in 2009 while Norway and Switzerland were a distant second and third on medical spending, respectively, at a little more than $5,000 per person.

U.S. health care spending amounted to more than 17 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, compared with 12 percent or less in other study countries. Japan was the lowest spender at less than 9 percent of GDP.

What’s causing the high cost? The study points to higher prices and greater use of technology as the main factors driving the high rates of U.S. spending, rather than greater use of physician and hospital services.

Relative to the other countries in the study, the U.S had few hospital beds, short lengths of stay for acute care and few hospital discharges, study author David Squires found, who is a senior research associate at The Commonwealth Fund.

But U.S. hospital stays were far more expensive than those in other countries at more than $18,000 per discharge. By comparison, the cost per discharge in Canada was about $13,000, while in Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, France, and Germany it was less than $10,000.

“It is a common assumption that Americans get more health care services than people in other countries, but in fact we do not go to the doctor or the hospital as often,” Squires said in a news release. “The higher prices we pay for health care and perhaps our greater use of expensive technology are the more likely explanations for high health spending in the U.S. Unfortunately, we do not seem to get better quality for this higher spending.”

Prescription drug costs were also significantly higher comparatively, as well as the prices of MRI and CT scans.

Additionally, despite their country’s spending, Americans can expect poorer access to physicians than people in other industrialized nations, with just 2.4 doctors for every 100,000 citizens. On that score, only Japan fared worse, according to the report.

The U.S. did have some good No. 1 rankings: survival rates among breast cancer patients and colorectal cancer patients (the latter shared with Norway). But still, it has among the highest rates of potentially preventable deaths from asthma and amputations due to diabetes, and rates that are no better than average for in-hospital deaths from heart attack and stroke.

Squires also said the high spending in the U.S. might be explained, in part, by the nation’s high rates of obesity and the associated medical costs.

Released on Thursday, the report analyzed health spending in the U.S., Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, France, Canada, Germany, Norway, Japan, Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.


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