Given that the US spends $2.4 trillion per year on health care, far more on a per capita basis than any other country, it’s hard to believe that we fare so poorly when it comes to “preventable deaths,” a smorgasbord of illnesses that shouldn’t—but do—kill us before our time.
But that’s the disheartening conclusion of a study by the Commonwealth Fund which recently appeared in Health Affairs.
The study looked first at death rates compiled by the World Health Organization regarding diabetes, epilepsy, influenza, pneumonia, stroke and ulcers during 1997-1998. It showed that Uncle Sam ranked 15th out of 19 industrialized countries in death rates from such “preventable” conditions.
A repeat analysis for the years 2002-2003 revealed that we had dropped to dead last, even though US health care costs rose nearly 30% in the intervening years.
According to the scientists leading the analysis, nearly 100,000 lives could have been spared if our health system performed as well those in Australia, France or Japan.
The scientists defined “preventable deaths” as those secondary to illnesses or injuries that need not happen or for which we have therapies proven to extend life through a certain age. Measles is an example, at least in developed countries. So are fatal cases of epilepsy, skin cancer, and certain surgical complications.
“These are conditions where early care and the right care should be able to prevent an early death,” Cathy Schoen, a Commonwealth Fund executive told the Washington Post. “We shouldn’t see people dying of diabetes before age 50.”
Or, as Mark Pearson, who chairs the health division at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Pearson concluded succinctly, “the US doesn’t take primary care very seriously.”