10 Questions in the U.S. Health Care Cost Debate

With Health Care So Expensive, How Healthy Are Americans?
Marche Curry (L), a college student unable to afford insurance, is examined by Dr. Nadine Altidor at a health clinic in Miami. The Affordable Care Act was designed to extend affordable health care coverage to people like Curry. Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of America's astronomically priced health care is that it's not even helping keep Americans healthy. Over the past decade, the Commonwealth Fund has studied the health care systems of the top industrialized nations (like Australia, France, Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom, to name a few). Every year, the U.S. comes in last place to these other countries.

Why does the U.S. falter? Much of its poor scoring is due to the fact that the U.S. doesn't offer universal health coverage, so a lot of Americans live without health care. The U.S. also is docked for inefficiency; it spends too much on medical care; its emergency room usage is too high and there's a lot of duplicative medical testing in the system.

And then there's actual health. Shockingly, the U.S. has the lowest life expectancy, the highest infant mortality rate and the highest percentage of its people over age 65 with two or more chronic diseases among the top industrialized nations [sources: The Commonwealth Fund].

On the plus side, the U.S. excels in cancer care. Its cancer mortality rates are much lower than they are in other countries. The other bright spot is wait times to see doctors, which are also much lower. There is also greater use of expensive technologies like MRI machines — which could be considered a plus or a minus.

Another consideration: The U.S. spends relatively little on social services like housing and food assistance, which some posit would be one way to keep the population healthier, and consequently, health care costs down [source: The Commonwealth Fund].

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