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U.S. Life Expectancy Lowered By Poor Health Care

October 7, 2010

Researchers from Columbia University have found that the life expectancy of Americans is falling behind those of other countries, and the reason why might come as a bit of a surprise.

It’s not obesity rates, or smoking, or traffic accidents, or even homicides. Rather, the primary culprit, according to Peter Munning and Sherry Glied of the university’s Mailman School of Public Health, is the poor quality of health care in the United States.

In the Commonwealth Fund-sponsored study, Muennig and Glied studied both health spending, a wide array of different behavioral risk factors, and 15-year survival rates for both men and women, ages 45 to 65, in the U.S., Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

They found that, despite the fact that the U.S. has achieved gains in survival rates each decade from 1975 through 2005, many of the other countries are outperforming them in those gains–despite the fact that American per capita health care spending has increased twice as rapidly as those other nations.

The life expectancy for 45-year-old American males dropped from third in 1975 to 12th in 2005, but according to an October 7 press release from the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation supporting independent research on health policy reform, “Forty-five year old U.S. white women fared the worst–by 2005 their 15-year survival rates were lower than that of all the other countries. Moreover, the survival rates of this group in 2005 had not even surpassed the 1975 15-year survival rates for Swiss, Swedish, Dutch or Japanese women.”

“It was shocking to see the U.S. falling behind other countries even as costs soared ahead of them,” Muennig, an assistant professor at Columbia and the lead author of a paper that has been published in Health Affairs, said in a statement. “But what really surprised us was that all of the usual suspects”¦ are not the culprits.”

“The U.S. doesn’t stand out as doing any worse in these areas than any of the other countries we studied, leading us to believe that failings in the U.S. health care system, such as costly specialized and fragmented care, are likely playing a large role in this relatively poor performance on improvements in life expectancy,” he added.

According to Reuters Health and Science Editor Maggie Fox, American citizens spend an average of nearly $7,300 per person annually–twice as much as residents of other developed nations–but tend to receive “lower quality and less efficiency” in exchange. Each of the 12 other nations studied in the survey provided universal health care for their people, Fox reports.

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