Health care costs in America have become a well-known story of exorbitant costs with relatively questionable benefits. A recent comparison of 27 countries only confirms America’s inefficient health spending by looking at it in terms of life expectancy.
According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, every $100 that a person in the U.S. gets to put toward their health care extends their lifespan by approximately two weeks. This is magnitudes less than Germany, which can brag about its ability to add four months to a person’s life for the same amount of money.
Study leader, Jody Heymann, of the University of California explained to The Atlantic that a lack of preventative measures accounts for much of this difference in longevity. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, $2.7 trillion is spent annually on health care in this country with $96 billion of it being spent on smoking-related illnesses, $43 billion for hypertension, and $17 billion on diabetes.
“Part of the reason the United States spends so much on health care is that millions of Americans are in poor health,” the foundation’s website explains. “Chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes are responsible for seven in 10 deaths among Americans each year, and account for nearly 75 percent of the nation’s health spending. Approximately 45 percent of the population has at least one chronic health condition.”
The study also found that men’s life expectancy in most countries benefited more form health spending than women’s. Part of the reason for this lop-sided trend, Heymann told The Atlantic, is that women suffer more from being misdiagnosed for specific illnesses in addition to a bias towards male subjects in medical research until 1993.
But overall, the study highlighted differences in how nations are mindful healthier, active lifestyles that make people less prone to diseases. “We are doing little to make sure people have opportunities for physical activity, a decent diet — the things that would help with their risk of developing cancer and diabetes,” Heymann said.
Heymann and team’s study also made it apparent that part of the problem with providing access to a healthier lifestyle is poverty. Countries that got more out of the money they put into health care had programs that addressed poverty, which is linked to less healthy diets.
A review in the British Medical Journal found that healthier foods, indeed, cost more than processed foods and concluded that "many decades of policies focused on producing inexpensive, high volume commodities have led to a complex network of farming, storage, transportation, processing, manufacturing, and marketing capabilities that favor sales of highly processed food products for maximal industry profit."