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REPORT: US Spends More, Gets Less, On Health Care Than Other Industrialized Nations

A new report out today from the Commonwealth Fund examined health care spending among 13 developed nations, including the United States. According to the report’s findings, the United States spent far more on health care than any other developed nation — “nearly $8,000 per person in 2009.” But the researchers found that the higher level of spending did not correspond to a higher quality of care:

High U.S. spending on health care does not seem to be explained by either greater supply or higher utilization of health care services. There were 2.4 physicians per 100,000 population in the U.S. in 2009, fewer than in all the countries in the study except Japan. The U.S. also had the fewest doctor consultations (3.9 per capita) of any country except Sweden. Relative to the other countries in the study, the U.S also had few hospital beds, short lengths of stay for acute care, and few hospital discharges per 1,000 population. On the other hand, U.S. hospital stays were far more expensive than those in other countries — more than $18,000 per discharge. By comparison, the cost per discharge in Canada was about $13,000, while in Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, France, and Germany it was less than $10,000.

“It is a common assumption that Americans get more health care services than people in other countries, but in fact we do not go to the doctor or the hospital as often,” said Squires. “The higher prices we pay for health care and perhaps our greater use of expensive technology are the more likely explanations for high health spending in the U.S. Unfortunately, we do not seem to get better quality for this higher spending.”

Prescription drugs were also found to be far more expensive in the United States than several other countries, and Americans used expensive technology like CT or MRI scans more frequently. According to the researchers, meanwhile, while the U.S. had the best survival rates for breast and colorectal cancer, the survival rate for cervical cancer was below average. The rate of asthma-related deaths among people aged 5 to 39 was also high, as were amputations for people with diabetes.

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This chart details how much the United States spends on health care per capita compared to other developed nations:

This one compares survival rates for three types of cancer:

Previous studies have cast doubt on the effectiveness of more expensive treatments. Meanwhile, the health care reform law encourages physicians to focus on quality rather than quantity of care in an effort to bring down health care costs.

-Zachary Bernstein