What Does It Mean to Be Dead Last in Healthcare?

The Epic of American CivilizationIt is a jarring headline. U.S. health systems cost the most and perform the worst in comparison to ten other wealthy countries. In fact, the comparison is not even close. So what does it mean to be dead last in healthcare?

Norway, the Netherlands, and Australia have the top performing health systems. The list also includes Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K. The report on this comparison comes from the Commonwealth Fund. It is a private foundation that focuses on healthcare access, quality, equity, and efficiency.

Eric Schneider was the lead author of this research. He sums up the findings:

“We’ve set up a system where we spend quite a bit of money on health care but we have significant financial barriers, which tend to dissuade people from getting care.

“We have almost two health-care systems in America: one for people with means and insurance, and another one that falls short for people who are uninsured or don’t have adequate insurance coverage.”

Chronic Disease Burden

Because of poor systems for healthcare, the burden of chronic diseases is not surprising. The U.S. has more obesity than any of the countries in this report. Along with obesity comes a high prevalence of diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory problems. Says the report:

“The U.S. health system delivers too little of the care that’s most needed — and often delivers it too late — especially for people with complex chronic illness, mental health problems, or substance use disorders, many of whom have faced a lifetime of inequitable access to care.”

Top of the List for COVID Deaths

The report comes from data that mostly predates the pandemic. However, it is easy to see that U.S. healthcare systems were in a poor position to respond well, as Schneider explains:

“One could predict, based on the inequities and the relatively weaker primary care, that we would be in a position to struggle in fighting the pandemic.”

In fact, the U.S. is a close second to the U.K. in COVID deaths per 100,000 population. The U.K. number is 195 and the U.S. is almost the same with 187. At the other end of the scale, New Zealand has had 0.57 deaths per 100,000. Australia and Norway had 3.7 and 15, respectively.

The Loss of Lives and Human Potential

Is good health a birthright? For Americans, the honest answer right now is no. Not unless you have sufficient wealth to buy into systems that are simply unavailable to others. But the real question is whether we can live with such a waste of money and human capital.

Being dead last in healthcare means being tops in the needless loss of lives and human potential.

Click here for the report and here for further reporting.

The Epic of American Civilization, mural panel by Jose Clemente Orozco / WikiArt

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August 6, 2021