Americans Die Younger Despite Spending the Most on Health Care

By Laurie Meisler

Typically, the more a developed country spends on health care, the longer its people live. The U.S., which spends the most on health care, bucks that trend. Compared to the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which promotes policies to improve social and economic well-being, the U.S. life expectancy of 78.8 years ranks 27th. It has the fourth highest infant mortality rate in the OECD, the sixth highest maternal mortality rate and the ninth highest likelihood of dying at a younger age from a host of ailments, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The U.S. is the most obese country in the OECD, leads in drug-related deaths and ranks 33rd in prevalence of diabetes. Yet 88 percent of Americans say they are in good or very good health, according to OECD statistics. Only 35 percent of Japanese, who have the highest life expectancy in the OECD, regard themselves as healthy or very healthy.

Unlike other countries in the OECD, the U.S. mostly relies on voluntary health insurance to fund health-care costs. Public health insurance, such as Medicare and Medicaid, accounts for 27 percent of coverage. By contrast, the 10 countries with the highest life expectancy depend on voluntary insurance for an average of less than 6 percent of their costs, and government spending for nearly half.

One big reason U.S. health care costs are so high: pharmaceutical spending. The U.S. spends more per capita on prescription medicines and over-the-counter products than any other country in the OECD.

Cost vs. Care

    Health Care Costs for OECD Countries

    Health Care Conditions for OECD Countries