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U.S. health stats remain low despite trillions in healthcare spending

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HealthDay News
In 2018, the United States spent almost 17 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care. Photo by Thomas Breher/Pixabay
In 2018, the United States spent almost 17 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care. Photo by Thomas Breher/Pixabay

Despite spending far more on health care than other wealthy nations, the United States has the lowest life expectancy and the highest suicide rate, new research shows.

For the study, researchers at The Commonwealth Fund compared the United States with 10 other high-income nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom -- and with the average for all 36 OECD nations.

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In 2018, the United States spent almost 17 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare. That's more than any other high-income country and twice the overall OECD average. For example, New Zealand and Australia spent 9 percent of GDP on healthcare.

U.S. healthcare spending now tops $10,000 per person, and much of it is driven by private insurance costs such as premiums, according to The Commonwealth Fund report published online Jan. 30.

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While the United States spends the most on healthcare, Americans had the lowest life expectancy (78.7 years in 2018 -- two years less than the average for other wealthy nations). On average, Americans die five years sooner than people in Switzerland, which has the OECD's highest life expectancy.

Americans see a doctor less often, but use costly technologies and procedures more often, according to the report. The average American has four doctor visits per year -- about half as many as people in the Netherlands and Australia. But the United States has the highest rates of MRI scans and hip replacements for older adults.

The authors of the report, Roosa Tikkanen and Melinda Abrams, also noted that the United States has the highest suicide rate of any wealthy nation -- 14 deaths per 100,000. That's double the suicide rate in the United Kingdom.

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The United States has the second highest rate of hospitalizations for preventable conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and the highest rate of avoidable deaths. It ranks last among the 11 wealthy countries in five-year survival for cervical cancer.

The report did identify some positive trends: 68 percent of U.S. seniors had a flu vaccine in 2016, compared to 44 percent in other OECD countries; and 80 percent of women between 50 and 69 years of age get breast cancer screening, compared to 61 percent in similar nations. The United States has the highest five-year breast cancer survival rate among high-income countries.

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The Kaiser Family Foundation has more on health costs.

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