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USA ranks near bottom of industrialized nations in efficiency of health spending

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The USA ranks near bottom among industrialized nations in efficiency of health care spending, according to a new University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA), and McGill University study that also shows women fare worse than men in most countries when it comes to healthcare, says a December 12, 2013 news release, "US ranks near bottom among industrialized nations in efficiency of health care spending." In fact, the United States health care system ranks 22nd out of 27 high-income nations when analyzed for its efficiency of turning dollars spent into extending lives.

A new study by researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and McGill University in Montreal reveals that the United States health care system ranks 22nd out of 27 high-income nations when analyzed for its efficiency of turning dollars spent into extending lives. The study, which appears online December 12, 2013 in the "First Look" section of the American Journal of Public Health, illuminates stark differences in countries' efficiency of spending on health care, and the U.S.'s inferior ranking reflects a high price paid and a low return on investment. You may wish to check the abstract of the study posted online December 12, 2013, "Analyzing Whether Countries Are Equally Efficient at Improving Longevity for Men and Women."

For example, every additional hundred dollars spent on health care by the United States translated into a gain of less than half a month of life expectancy. In Germany, every additional hundred dollars spent translated into more than four months of increased life expectancy.

The researchers also discovered significant gender disparities within countries

"Out of the 27 high-income nations we studied, the United States ranks 25th when it comes to reducing women's deaths," said Dr. Jody Heymann, according to the news release, Heymann is senior author of the study and dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. "The country's efficiency of investments in reducing men's deaths is only slightly better, ranking 18th."

The study, which utilized data from 27 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development collected over 17 years (1991–2007), is the first-known research to estimate health-spending efficiency by gender across industrialized nations. "While there are large differences in the efficiency of health spending across countries, men have experienced greater life expectancy gains than women per health dollar spent within nearly every country," said Douglas Barthold, according to the news release. Barthold is the study's first author and a doctoral candidate in the department of economics at McGill University.

The report's findings bring to light several questions

How is it possible for the United States to have one of the most advanced economies yet one of the most inefficient health care systems? And while the U.S. health care system is performing so poorly for men, why is it performing even worse for women?

The exact causes of the gender gap are unknown, the researchers said, thus highlighting the need for additional research on the topic. But the nation's lack of investment in prevention for both men and women warrants attention.

Prevention of illness is important

"The most effective way to stop people from dying prematurely is to prevent them from getting sick in the first place," Heymann said, according to the news release. Last year, the U.S. spent a tiny fraction of its $2.65 trillion annual health care budget on prevention. Health care spending is a large — and ever-increasing — portion of government budgets, particularly in the U.S. Therefore, allocating the necessary resources for prevention and improving overall efficiency are both critically important to preventing premature deaths and wiser spending, the researchers emphasized.

Additional authors included assistant professor Arijit Nandi and researcher José Mauricio Mendoza Rodríguez of McGill University. The study was part of the McGill University Institute for Health and Social Policy's Healthier Societies Initiative, a research program funded by McGill chancellor Arnold Steinberg and professor Blema Steinberg that informs the public on health care issues related to increasing costs, health quality and access in Canada and other leading economies.

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