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Despite highest health spending, Americans' life expectancy falls behind other countries'
Date:10/7/2010

erms of obesity, researchers found that, while people in the U.S. are more likely to be obese, this was also the case in 1975, when the U.S. was not so far behind in life expectancy. In fact, even as the comparison countries pulled ahead of the U.S. in terms of survival, the percentage of obese men and women actually grew faster in most of those countries between 1975 and 2005. Finally, examining homicide and traffic fatalities, the researchers found that they have accounted for a stable share of U.S. deaths over time, and would not account for the significant change in 15-year life expectancy the study identified.

The researchers say that the failure of the U.S. to make greater gains in survival rates with its greater spending on health care may be attributable to flaws in the overall health care system. Specifically, they point to the role of unregulated fee-for-service payments and our reliance on specialty care as possible drivers of high spending without commensurate gains in life expectancy.

"It was shocking to see the U.S. falling behind other countries even as costs soared ahead of them," said lead author Peter Muennig, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Health Policy and Management at the Mailman School of Public Health. "But what really surprised us was that all of the usual suspectssmoking, obesity, traffic accidents, homicides, and racial and ethnic diversity are not the culprits. The U.S. doesn't stand out as doing any worse in these areas than any of the other countries we studied, leading us to believe that failings in the U.S. health care system, such as costly specialized and fragmented care, are likely playing a large role in this relatively poor performance on improvements in life expectancy."

"This study provides stark evidence that the U.S. health care system has been failing Americans for years," said Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis. "It is unacceptable that the U.S. obtains so much less than should be expe
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Contact: Stephanie Berger
sb2247@columbia.edu
212-305-4372
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
Source:Eurekalert

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