Why is the U.S. pursuing health care reform?

By: Molly Edmonds

How U.S. Health Care Costs Compare to Other Countries

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States spends a higher portion of its gross domestic product on health care every year than any other country. Yet, the United States ranks 37th out of 191 countries in the WHO's ranking of health care systems. It's difficult to imagine any consumer spending that much more money on a product only to be handed something that ranks 37th in quality. To see how other countries provide health care, see 10 Health Care Systems Around the World.

When compared with other developed countries, the U.S. performs worse on life expectancy and infant mortality [source: Carey et al.]. It also tops the list of deaths deemed "preventable" with adequate early care and diagnosis [source: Harrell]. The typical U.S. citizen has far fewer doctor appointments each year than citizens of other countries, yet pays more for the privilege. When an American citizen spends the night in the hospital, it costs 5.6 times more than it would cost a person in Japan [source: Clifton]. And to top it all off, the U.S. spends $2,797 more per person every year than other industrialized countries, even though 47 million of those people are uninsured [source: Clifton].


So the U.S. spends more -- is that just the price we pay for having free choice of providers and leading the way in medical technology? Not necessarily; at least 30 percent of all delivered health care services are thought to be unnecessary because they don't make sick people any healthier source: Clifton]. As an example, let's consider Medicare spending. One study compared patients with similar ailments in high-spending Medicare regions and low-spending Medicare regions. Those patients in the high-spending areas, who saw their doctor more often and spent more days in the hospital, had an increased risk of dying when compared with patients in the lower-spending areas who had the same illness [sources: Gawande; Clifton]. It's almost as if going to the doctor in this country can make a person even sicker, perhaps because a patient runs the risk of undergoing unnecessary procedures that exact a high toll in terms of side effects.

President Obama has vowed that this unnecessary spending must be cut out of the system, both in governmental and private spending. On the next page, we'll see how rising health care costs affect private insurance.