POST 50
12/12/2013 04:21 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2013

U.S. Ranks Near Bottom Among Advanced Nations In Efficiency Of Health Care Spending

Shutterstock / Andy Dean Photography

While the great health care debate continues across the nation, a new study shows our struggles for health care go far beyond just the quarrels in Washington.

Researchers at McGill University and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health analyzed the efficacy of health care systems across the world and found the U.S. ranks 22nd out of 27 high income nations when it comes to increasing life expectancy.

The analysis, published in the American Journal of Public Health , defined health efficiency by the increase in life expectancy relative to health care dollars spent. In the U.S., every additional $100 spent on health care increased patient life expectancy by around half a month, while in the most efficient nations life expectancy grew by over four months with the same cost. Germany topped off the list of most efficient nations, followed by Switzerland and Italy, while Luxembourg and Greece fell at the bottom.

The inefficiency of U.S. spending is particularly staggering, although not necessarily surprising, given that in 2009, publicly-financed health care expenses reached $1.14 trillion, up from $646 billion in 2001. It's one of the top countries when it comes to health care spending by capita in the world, trumped only by Switzerland.

But there's more.

"While there are large differences in the efficiency of health spending across countries, men have experienced greater life expectancy gains than women per health dollar spent within nearly every country," study author Douglas Barthold said in a release.

When it comes to increasing female life expectancy, the U.S. ranking dropped down further to 25th place while it fared slightly better for men's health care efficiency at 18th place. Troublingly, women pay $1 billion more than men annually in insurance costs according to one report.

The findings raise several questions on how a more advanced nation can have such an inefficient health care system and why there is such a substantial gender disparity. But the key to a more efficient system could be treating it as a health care system rather than a "sick care" system, Huffington Post blogger Susan Blumental wrote. "Costs are compounded by preventable chronic illness... tobacco use, obesity and lack of physical activity -- have overwhelmed the American health care system," Blumenthal wrote.

Researchers say the findings warrant further research on the gender disparities and the lack of investment in preventive medicine.

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