Despite spending, US trails in life expectancy

Associated Press / December 9, 2009

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PARIS - The United States ranks near the bottom in life expectancy among wealthy nations despite spending more than double per person on health care than the industrialized world’s average, an economic group said yesterday.

Life expectancy at birth in the United States was 78.1 years in 2007, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

That’s a year less than the organization’s average of 79.1, and puts the United States just ahead of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Mexico, where spending on health care is many times less per person, the Paris-based organization said in its latest survey of trends among its 30 rich-member countries.

Total US spending on health care was $7,290 a person in 2007, nearly 2 1/2 times the organization’s average of $2,984. The figures include spending by both individuals and governments.

“It suggests that the United States is not getting great value for its health spending, in terms of life expectancy,’’ Gaetan Lafortune, one of the report’s coauthors, said.

He said the United States needs to look “closely at spending that has little or no value in terms of improved health.’’

“Life expectancy is only partly driven by how a country’s health care system performs,’’ Lafortune said.

Outside factors such as the country’s higher rates of obesity and violent death, as well as mishandling of chronic conditions leading to avoidable hospital stays, play a bigger role in life expectancy rates than health care spending, Lafortune said.

Spending on health care in the United States grew more quickly between 1997 and 2007 than in France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, averaging 3.4 percent annually over the period.

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