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Study Ranks U.S. Health Care System Last

By Adam Bloedorn, CQ Staff

May 16, 2007 -- The U.S. health care system ranks last or next-to-last when compared with five other nations surveyed in a new report from The Commonwealth Fund.

While the United States spent $6,102 per capita on health care in 2004—more than double the average of other nations—the report, released Tuesday, finds the U.S. system lacking in five aspects of a "high performing" health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives.

Only 84 percent of American patients reported having a regular doctor, while 61 percent found it difficult to find care on nights and weekends. The country also pays twice as much per capita on drugs than the other nations, according to the report, which studied the health care systems in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Of the six countries surveyed, the United States is the only one without a universal health care system, which partly accounts "for its poor performance on access, equity, and health outcomes," according to the report.

"Other nations ensure the accessibility of care through universal health insurance systems and through better ties between patients and the physician practices that serve as their long-term 'medical home.'

It is not surprising, therefore, that the U.S. substantially underperforms compared to other countries on measures of access to care and equity in health care between populations with above-average and below average incomes," the study's authors say.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who is sponsoring legislation (S 334) that would provide universal health coverage, said the Commonwealth Fund report "confirms what I hear from folks at town hall meetings all across Oregon: They want access to quality health care that can't be taken away."

"We have the best health care professionals in the world," Wyden said. "We spend enough money on health care. We just don't spend it in the right places."

The report gives the United States good marks for its performance in preventative care, which is an area "that has been monitored closely for over a decade by managed care plans," according to the report's authors.

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