US ranked dead last on healthcare system compared to 11 other peer countries, study finds

The US consistently has ranked behind other peer countries on healthcare since 2004

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Thursday 05 August 2021 18:41 BST
Biden discusses US progress in fighting Covid-19

The US healthcare system ranked dead last when compared to 11 other similar high-income countries. Not only that, but Americans spend more on healthcare than anyone else in this group for such subpar care.

That’s the latest finding from the Commonwealth Fund, which examined health systems across Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.

“We’ve set up a system where we spend quite a bit of money on healthcare but we have significant financial barriers, which tend to dissuade people from getting care,” Eric Schneider, the lead author behind the findings, told The Washington Post.

The Fund’s analysis looked at 71 different measures of effective healthcare, including access, efficiency, equity, outcomes, and spending – and the US fell far behind on nearly all of them.

In 2019, the US shelled out a whopping 16.8 per cent of its GDP on health, the highest of the countries considered, some of which spent nearly half that much. The next biggest spender was Switzerland at 11.3 per cent, while New Zealand spent just nine per cent.

And for that high price tag, Americans didn’t get much compared to peer countries, all of which have higher or universal coverage, lower cost barriers, better primary care systems, less administrative hurdles, and more investment in social services for children and working-age adults.

In particular, the analysis found, compared to star performers like Norway, the Netherlands, and Australia, the US lagged when it comes to efficiency, equity, and health outcomes.

The findings, though they’re at odds with America’s self-regard as an exceptional nation, aren’t exactly surprising: Seven similar reports from the group, dating back to 2004, have all ranked the US last.

Of course, the US healthcare system has some strengths. Wealthy individuals can access excellent care, and the US used its large buying power and large pharmaceutical industry to secure free and widely available coronavirus vaccines for its population. (The Commonwealth study doesn’t include data that reflects the pandemic.)

Still, even though a number of US companies like Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson developed Covid vaccines, the US, perhaps owing to its lackluster health system, had the highest coronavirus death rate of the 11 countries studied.

“We have almost two healthcare 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,” Mr Schneider added

Universal healthcare remains a popular idea among Americans, and support surged during the pandemic, but political momentum behind the Medicare for All movement has died out in recent months.

Joe Biden was never behind the idea on the campaign trail to begin with, and universal healthcare advocates like Senator Bernie Sanders and representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been consumed with other issues like Covid relief.

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