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U.S. Lags Behind Other Industrialized Nations In Survival Rates

As of September 23, 2010, the United States ranked forty-ninth internationally for both male and female life expectancy combined.  The results of a new study on survival rates, published online today in Health Affairs, are not international rates; the data is compared only among the 13 industrialized nations. In What Changes In Survival Rates Tell Us About US Health Care, you may be surprised to learn why we've fallen behind.

The reason our survival rates have declined, according to the study, do not point to a rise in smoking, obesity, traffic fatalities, or diseases that we have any control over.  The reason is that the health care system, although the U.S. spends more money on it than any other industrialized country, "is inefficient and performing poorly."

The study, conducted by Peter A. Muennig, M.D., M.P.H. and Sherry A. Glied, Ph.D at Columbia University School of Public Health, included data from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, as well as the United States. The data was obtained from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the International Mortality and Smoking Statistics.

During the last three decades the U.S. survival rate for 45-year olds and 65-year olds went from fifth in 1975 to twelfth in 2005, in the list of industrialized countries.  The greatest decline, as you can see in the chart below, is in the survival rates of 65 year old women in the U.S.

 

Survival rates for men and women aged 45 and 65 in 1975 and 2005.: P. A. Muennig and S. A. Glied, "What Changes in Survival Rates Tell Us About U.S. Health Care," Health Affairs Web First, Oct. 7, 2010.Survival rates for men and women aged 45 and 65 in 1975 and 2005.: P. A. Muennig and S. A. Glied, "What Changes in Survival Rates Tell Us About U.S. Health Care," Health Affairs Web First, Oct. 7, 2010.

 

The authors then charted the relative levels of health care spending of industrialized countries in 1975 and 2005.

 

Health care expenditues by country, 1975 and 2005.: P. A. Muennig and S. A. Glied, "What Changes in Survival Rates Tell Us About U.S. Health Care," Health Affairs Web First, Oct. 7, 2010.Health care expenditues by country, 1975 and 2005.: P. A. Muennig and S. A. Glied, "What Changes in Survival Rates Tell Us About U.S. Health Care," Health Affairs Web First, Oct. 7, 2010.

 

Muennig and Glied concluded from their findings that improving U.S. health care will lead to improved health outcomes. 

Many chronic diseases that can be prevented or treated with health interventions arise in midlife, and deaths from these diseases cluster in the second half of life. Significant reforms... will help improve the health care system and lower costs by expanding health insurance, improving primary care, and ensuring the coordination of primary care and specialty care to eliminate errors and wasteful duplication of tests and services. (Health Affairs)

 

Commonwealth Fund, Health Affairs, via Science Daily