The US healthcare system is supposed to be the best in the world….but is it?

For over 62 years (that’s how old I am), I believed I was lucky to be an American because, as everyone knows, the US healthcare system is the best in the world, and Americans live longer than any other people. 

But was I correct?  Do Americans live longer than people from other countries?  Is our healthcare system the best or just the most expensive? Well…as it turns out, the average life span of Americans is significantly lower than in most wealthy countries (and some not-so-wealthy countries).  

What We Know

Graph of life expectancy vs. health expenditure over time 1970-2014

So, What’s Going On? Why is US life expectancy so poor and per capita health care spending so high?  

There are many reasons for the poor relative performance of the US healthcare system…some of them are the fault of the system, while others are because of uniquely “American” cultural issues.  

Below is a summary of some of the primary reasons for the poor performance of the United States.  

1. Infant Mortality

Somehow, infant mortality is much worse in the United States than in other developed countries.  Infant mortality has a mathematically large effect on average life expectancy because when young people die “early,” it significantly affects the average life span.  Infant mortality is often thought of as failing the public health system.

Colored line graph showing the 2020 infant mortality rate througout the world.

2. Obesity

The American Obesity crisis is real and costing people their lives.   We are literally eating ourselves to death.  It is hard to blame healthcare providers for our collective obesity.  

Line graph showing the deaths from obesity from 1990-2019

3. Homicide

We are killing each other at levels unheard of in the rest of the world.  Again, this is a uniquely American problem and most likely not the fault of the healthcare system.  

Line graph showing the homicide rate from 1990-2019

4. Opioid Use

The opioid crisis is killing us in numbers found nowhere else in the world.  In many ways and for many reasons, this problem started and was exacerbated by the healthcare system.  So, I put the opioid crisis mainly in the category of a healthcare system failure.  

Line graph showing opioid overdoes from 1990-2019

5.  Automobile Accidents

I am not sure why Americans are more unsafe drivers than their peers in other countries, but…

Bad drivers are not the fault of doctors, nurses, or hospitals.  

Most likely, the high death rate from road accidents is a function of Americans driving more than people from other countries.  

Line graph showing death rate from road accidents from 1990-2019

6.  Smoking

Death from smoking is still a disproportionate problem in the US relative to the rest of the world.  

Again, this is not the fault of the US healthcare system.  

Line graph showing death rate from smoking from 1990-2019

7.  Suicide

At least the US doesn’t have the highest suicide rate in the world.  But we are close to third worst.

I don’t believe we can blame our high suicide rate on the healthcare system.  

Line graph showing death rate from suicide from 2000-2019

What You Need To Know…

Why the United States life expectancy is so out of sync with the rest of the developed world is complicated, but according to statistics, mainly not because of healthcare system failures. 

Americans have a relatively short life expectancy because of our lifestyle choices (obesity, smoking, drug abuse, and homicide).  And, we also die early because we are a more mobile society than other countries (automobile deaths).  

So, What Are We To Do?

Honestly, I am not sure.  However, I know that this is a serious problem that affects all Americans and needs to be addressed by our leaders.  I’m just glad I don’t smoke, am not obese, unlikely to commit suicide, don’t like opioids, and, unless I really upset my wife (again), am unlikely to be killed.

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