WILMINGTON, Del.—The United States spends more on healthcare than 12 other industrialized countries yet does not provide "notably superior" care, according to a new study from The Commonwealth Fund. The U.S. spent nearly $8,000 per person in 2009 on healthcare services, while other countries in the study spent between one-third (Japan and New Zealand) and two-thirds (Norway and Switzerland) as much. While the United States performs well on breast and colorectal cancer survival rates, it has among the highest rates of potentially preventable deaths from asthma and amputations due to diabetes, and rates that are no better than average for in-hospital deaths from heart attack and stroke.
Higher prices and greater use of technology appear to be the main factors driving the high rates of U.S. spending, rather than greater use of physician and hospital services, finds study author David Squires, senior research associate at The Commonwealth Fund. His report, "Explaining High Healthcare Spending in the United States: An International Comparison of Supply, Utilization, Prices, and Quality," presents analysis of prices and healthcare spending in 13 industrialized countries.
U.S. healthcare spending amounted to more than 17 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009, compared with 12 percent or less in other study countries. Japan's spending, which was the lowest, amounted to less than 9 percent of GDP.
High U.S. spending on healthcare does not seem to be explained by either greater supply or higher utilization of healthcare services. There were 2.4 physicians per 100,000 population in the U.S. in 2009, fewer than in all the countries in the study except Japan. The U.S. also had the fewest doctor consultations (3.9 per capita) of any country except Sweden. Relative to the other countries in the study, the U.S also had few hospital beds, short lengths of stay for acute care, and few hospital discharges per 1,000 population. On the other hand, U.S. hospital stays were far more expensive than those in other countries—more than $18,000 per discharge. By comparison, the cost per discharge in Canada was about $13,000, while in Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, France, and Germany it was less than $10,000.