The Two Maps That Show How Badly American Health Care is Trailing The Rest of The World


Two maps published by Huffington Post, based on data interpreted by Bloomberg, suggest that the United States health care system is among the least efficient of developed countries. The inefficient, light blue hue representing the United States' efficiency is matched by 10 other countries including Iran, Turkey, and China, and is only darker than the light blue of Brazil.

This metric — efficiency —is, according to Bloomberg, a combination of the country's average life expectancy, average spending on health care as a percentage of GDP per capita, and absolute spending on health care per capita. That is, this metric compares the quality of health care as a function of cost; it does not, as Kavitha Davidson notes, "reflect the best health care in the world," but rather it compares which countries "get more bang for their health care buck."

According to Bloomberg's ranking, the United States spends 17.2% of its GDP per capita on health care, the highest percentage of all countries included in the ranking. Even when not taken as a percentage of GDP, the United States spends $8608 per capita, making it the second-highest spending country on health care. The only country that spends more money per capita than the United States is Switzerland, which still manages only to spend 11.5% of its GDP per capita on Switzerland, making it the 9th most efficient system ranked.

Most health care systems included in the ranking, as demonstrated by the following map, spend less than 10% of their GDP per capita on health care; the United States, being the only system to spend over 17%, is obviously as a clear outlier in terms of relative spending on health care.

Perhaps most interestingly, the ten most efficient systems—Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Israel, Spain, Italy, Australia, South Korea, Switzerland, and Sweden—all provide universal health care, through single payer, two-tier, or individual mandate programs.

The United States, in contrast, does not. Not only is our health care system notably inefficient, but we also fail to provide health care to all of our citizens.

What happens to these other citizens, the uninsured? As was recently reported on PolicyMic, some resort to crime in order to access health care through the prison system. Then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously asserted that emergency rooms should function as a suitable alternative to insurance for the uninsured.

These alternatives beg an important question: who covers the cost of the uninsured. If the uninsured individual, who is already probably working class or poor, must pay, they will undoubtedly be buried in bills that will haunt them for the rest of their life. If the government must pay, they are fronting a cost that could be paid for through a tax. If the hospitals must pay, they are losing out on money that is not accounted for in the efficiency statistic above, and our health care system is even more broken than we realize.

Fortunately, universal health care in the form of a universal mandate will be a reality in the United States starting January 1, 2014. There is nothing left to do now but wait and see whether Obamacare will bring us up to speed with other, efficient universal health care systems around the world.