A new study published in the JAMA and summarized by Reuters claims the U.S. spends about twice what other high-income nations do on health care but has the lowest life expectancy and the highest infant mortality rates.
For the study, researchers examined international data from 2013 to 2016 comparing the U.S. with 10 other high-income countries: the U.K., Canada, Germany, Australia, Japan, Sweden, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.
In 2016, the U.S. spent 17.8 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare. Other countries’ spending ranged from a low of 9.6 percent of GDP in Australia to a high of 12.4 percent of GDP in Switzerland. A large part of this was administrative costs, which accounted for 8 percent of GDP in the U.S., more than double the average of 3 percent of GDP.
At the same time, the U.S. spent an average of $1,443 per person on drugs, compared with an average of $749 per person across all of the countries in the study. U.S. spending was also higher for imaging and for many of the most common medical procedures like knee replacements, surgical cesarean births, and surgeries to repair or unclog blood vessels.
If the U.S. did less imaging and fewer of 25 common procedures, and lowered prices and the number of procedures to levels in the Netherlands, it would translate into a savings of $137 billion, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania writes in an accompanying editorial.
“Regardless of what is done with the money, it would be more valuable than paying high prices for a large number of CT and MRI scans, up to a third of which may be deemed unnecessary and carry radiation risks, and many expensive but not necessary surgical procedures,” Emanuel writes.
Life expectancy in the U.S. was the lowest, at 78.8 years, the study also found. In the other countries, life expectancy ranged from 80.7 to 83.9 years. Infant mortality rates were highest in the U.S., with 5.8 fatalities out of every 1,000 live births. For other countries, the average infant mortality rate was 3.6 fatalities for every 1,000 live births.