June 23, 2010

America Scores Last On Healthcare

According to a report released on Wednesday, Americans spend twice as much as residents of other developed countries on healthcare, but get lower quality, less efficiency and have the least equitable system.

The Commonwealth Fund report found that the U.S. ranked last when compared to Britain, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.

"As an American it just bothers me that with all of our know-how, all of our wealth, that we are not assuring that people who need healthcare can get it," Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis told reporters in a telephone briefing.

Policymakers and politicians pressing for healthcare reform have heavily used previous reports by the Fund.

Davis said she hoped health reform legislation passed in March would lead to improvements.

The current report uses data from nationally representative patient and physician surveys in seven countries in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Health spending was $7,290 per person in the U.S. in 2007, more than double that of any other country in the survey.

Australians spent $3,357, Canadians $3,895, Germans $3,588, the Netherlands $3,837 and Britons spent $2,992 per capita on health in 2007. New Zealand spent the least at $2,454.

However, the Commonwealth Fund's Cathy Schoen said that Americans get less for their money.

"We rank last on safety and do poorly on several dimensions of quality," Schoen told reporters. "We do particularly poorly on going without care because of cost. And we also do surprisingly poorly on access to primary care and after-hours care."

The report looks at quality, efficiency, access to care, equity and the ability to lead long, healthy, productive lives.

"On measures of quality the United States ranked 6th out of seven countries," the group said in a statement.

U.S. patients with chronic conditions were the most likely to say they got the wrong drug or had to wait to learn of abnormal test results.

The Commonwealth team found that Britain ranks first, which has a nationalized healthcare system widely derided by opponents of U.S. healthcare reform.

"The findings demonstrate the need to quickly implement provisions in the new health reform law and stimulus legislation that focus on strengthening primary care, realigning incentives to reward higher quality and greater value, investing in preventive care, and expanding the use of health information technology," the report reads.

Critics of the report point to the U.S. lifestyle as a bigger factor than healthcare.  For example, Americans have higher rates of obesity than other developed countries.

"On the other hand, the other countries have higher rates of smoking," Davis countered. And Germany, for instance, has a much older population more prone to chronic disease.

The report noted that other systems cover all citizens, and the U.S. system leaves 46 million Americans, or 15 percent of the population, without health insurance.

"The lower the performance score for equity, the lower the performance on other measures. This suggests that, when a country fails to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, it also fails to meet the needs of the average citizen," the report reads.


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