Blog | Monday, June 16, 2014

QD: News Every Day--U.S. health care system last among 11 industrialized nations


The United States ranks last overall among 11 industrialized countries on measures of health system quality, efficiency, access to care, equity, and healthy lives, according to a new Commonwealth Fund report.

The U.S. spent the most per person on health care in 2011, or $8,508, compared with $3,406 in the United Kingdom, which ranked first overall.

The report attributes the United States’ ranking to deficiencies in access to primary care and inequities and inefficiencies in its health care system, according to “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: How the Performance of the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally, 2014 Update.” Data for this report drawn from previous Commonwealth Fund reports.

Key findings related to the U.S. include:

Healthy lives: The U.S. does poorly, ranking last on infant mortality and on deaths that were potentially preventable with timely access to effective health care and second-to-last on healthy life expectancy at age 60.

Access to care: People in the U.S. have the hardest time affording the health care they need. The U.S. ranks last on every measure of cost-related access. More than one-third (37%) of U.S. adults reported forgoing a recommended test, treatment, or follow-up care because of cost.

Health care quality: The U.S ranks in the middle. On 2 of 4 measures of quality-effective care and patient-centered care-the U.S. ranks near the top (third and fourth of 11 countries, respectively), but it does not perform as well providing safe or coordinated care.

Efficiency: The U.S ranks last, due to low marks on the time and dollars spent dealing with insurance administration, lack of communication among health care providers, and duplicative medical testing. Forty percent of U.S. adults who had visited an emergency room reported they could have been treated by a regular doctor, had one been available. This is more than double the rate of patients in the U.K. (16%).

Equity: The U.S. ranks last. About 4 of 10 (39%) adults with below-average incomes in the U.S. reported a medical problem but did not visit a doctor in the past year because of costs, compared with less than one of 10 in the U.K., Sweden, Canada, and Norway. There were also large discrepancies between the length of time U.S. adults waited for specialist, emergency, and after-hours care compared with higher-income adults.

The authors noted that provisions in the Affordable Care Act that have already extended coverage to millions of people in the United States can improve the country’s standing in some areas, particularly access to affordable and timely primary care.

“Now that millions more Americans have good coverage, we have to invest in our health care delivery system to be sure all patients-and especially those with the greatest need and whose care is the most costly-can get the high-quality, well-coordinated health care they need,” said Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal, MD, FACP. “Those kinds of improvements will go a long way toward improving peoples’ health while making efficient use of our precious health care dollars.”

The report was also produced in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2010, with the U.S. ranking last in each of those years. The other countries included in the study were Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Countries added this year were Switzerland and Sweden, which followed the U.K. at the top of the rankings, and Norway and France, which were in the middle of the pack. Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Norway also placed in the middle, while Canada was just above the U.S. at the bottom.