The state of US health care

The Journal of the American Medical Association has published a major cross-national study of “the health status of the United States and to compare US health outcomes with those of 34 OECD countries.”

The good news? “Overall, population health in the United States improved from 1990 to 2010. Life expectancy at birth and HALE [Healthy Life Expectancy] increased and all-cause death rates at all ages decreased.”

The bad news?

The United States spends the most per capita on health care across all countries, lacks universal health coverage, and lags behind other high-income countries for life expectancy and many other health outcome measures. High costs with mediocre population health outcomes at the national level are compounded by marked disparities across communities, socioeconomic groups, and race and ethnicity groups. Although overall life expectancy has slowly risen, the increase has been slower than for many other high-income countries. In addition, in some US counties, life expectancy has decreased in the past 2 decades, particularly for women.

Figure 4 sums it all up for a variety of diseases, with the numbers in each box signifying the ranking for each condition, with 1 being the highest and 34 the lowest. We see that it is only with stroke that the US performs above average.


(You can see larger version by following the link.)

I just wish people would stop claiming that the US has the best health care in the world.


  1. smrnda says

    When people make the claim that we’re the best, I never have any idea how they’re supporting the claim. It typically is just privileged ignorance talking, but at this point in time there have to be very few people who aren’t dissatisfied with their heath care. Even people who used to think of themselves as affluent are often struggling to keep up with costs. In the past 2 years, my premiums increased 200%. It isn’t the worst thing that could happen, but I can’t think of anything else that’s risen like that.

  2. MNb says

    The American health system is obviously the best because it’s American and not socialist. That’s fáááár more important than performing above average. And we all know that scientists are cheaters and that statistics is a lie.
    There you are.

  3. slc1 says

    We have the best health care system in the world if you can afford it. Unfortunately, most of us, especially sans health insurance, can’t afford it.

  4. says

    Thanks for sharing the chart. While we do have doctors and hospitals that can compete with the best in any country, too many in the U.S. cannot afford medical treatment. While the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) is bringing welcome reforms, I believe we would be better off with a single-payer, universal health care system.

    We already have an example of a universal, single-payer program in the U.S.–our public education system. I wrote a piece comparing the way we provide education and health care in the United States. You can find it at:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *