No, in turns out, the United States does not have the "best healthcare system in the world."
In the midst of a deeply unpopular attempt by the Republican Party to pass legislation that could leave 22 million more Americans uninsured and as support for Medicare for All soars, a new analysis published on Friday by the Washington-based Commonwealth Fund finds that the U.S. healthcare system currently ranks last among 11 other advanced countries in healthcare outcomes, access, equity, and efficiency.
"Your level of income defines the healthcare you receive far more in the United States than in other wealthy nations."
The U.S. "fell short" in almost every domain measured, the Commonwealth Fund's senior vice president for policy and research Eric Schneider, M.D., told the New Scientist.
The study examines the healthcare systems of the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, and several other nations, utilizing surveys of physicians and patients as well as data accumulated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The report's conclusion echoes those of previous studies, which have indicated that despite spending far more on healthcare than other advanced nations, the U.S. continues to lag behind in a variety of measures, from infant mortality rate to overall life expectancy.
Schneider and his co-authors—Dana Sarnak, David Squires, Arnav Shah, and Michelle Doty—observed that "[t]he U.S. healthcare system is unique in several respects. Most striking: it is the only high-income country lacking universal health insurance coverage."
The researchers went on to summarize their findings:
The United States spends far more on healthcare than other high-income countries, with spending levels that rose continuously over the past three decades. Yet the U.S. population has poorer health than other countries. Life expectancy, after improving for several decades, worsened in recent years for some populations, aggravated by the opioid crisis. In addition, as the baby boom population ages, more people in the U.S.—and all over the world—are living with age-related disabilities and chronic disease, placing pressure on health care systems to respond.
Timely and accessible healthcare could mitigate many of these challenges, but the U.S. health care system falls short, failing to deliver indicated services reliably to all who could benefit.
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As opposed to nations that guarantee healthcare to all, the authors concluded that Americans' ability to attain quality healthcare is almost entirely dependent on financial status.
"Your level of income defines the healthcare you receive far more in the United States than in other wealthy nations," the authors note.
While acknowledging that the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) had much success in providing coverage to low-income Americans—particularly through the law's expansion of Medicaid—Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal, M.D., said the U.S. healthcare system is "still not working as well as it could for Americans, and it works especially poorly for those with middle or lower incomes."
Underscoring this point, the Commonwealth Fund's analysis noted that "in the U.S., 44 percent of lower income and 26 percent of higher income people reported financial barriers to care." In the U.K., these percentages are seven and four.
"A higher-earning person in the U.S. is more likely to meet cost barriers than a low-income person in the U.K.," Schneider observed.
The survey comes as the Senate GOP is currently scrambling to convince enough Republicans to vote for a bill that, if enacted, would drastically cut Medicaid, defund Planned Parenthood, and potentially cause the deaths of thousands.
Blumenthal concludes that while there are substantial and urgent problems with the healthcare status quo, the Republicans' legislative efforts would "certainly exacerbate these challenges as millions would lose access to health insurance and affordable healthcare."