Is American Health Care the Best?

“Is American Health Care the Best?” The answer to that question might depend on whom you ask, but by almost all measures we aren’t even close. That was the message of this article on Vox that says people who believe our health system is the best are “measuring it wrong.” Here’s some measures we should be considering, followed by some supporting graphs and videos and my perspective:

  • Costs: America spends vastly more than any other nation, often more than twice as much.
  • Access: Tens of millions of Americans remain uninsured. Even after Obamacare, we’ll be behind.
  • Satisfaction: Patients here are less happy with their system, and nurses & doctors are too.
  • Mistakes: Hospitals are dangerous places, given the number of infections & medical errors there.
  • Outcomes: Americans live sicker & die younger. Longevity is shorter and infant mortality is higher.


No matter how you measure, America's overall health care ranking is low.



America's health care system is the least equal
Life expectancy in years



Average number of doctor visits per person (2011)



Average cost of one day in a hospital (2013)


Cost of delivering a Baby


Cost of an MRI


High cost of bypass surgery

My Perspective

Public health officials have long shown us that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But in our current fee-for-service sick care system, Americans pay twice as much as other nations for health care and still live sicker and die younger, according to the WHO. So in theory, we should be able to cut expenses in half at least and still improve care quality and customer service. After all, 80% of care expenses go toward treating chronic illness, and 70% of that is preventable, mostly through lifestyle change.

That information gives me confidence that we might actually be able to achieve the potential $1.5+ trillion/year in savings, which could help us quickly pay down the national debt, but other things give me pause.

POLITICS: The $3 trillion medical industrial complex (hospitals, insurers, drug companies, testing companies, and equipment providers) has a different agenda and is not excited about losing over 1/3 of their revenue. That’s why they spend twice as much on political lobbying as the military industrial complex. So as long as Citizens United allows unlimited campaign contributions, and politicians are pressured to take those (bribes) in order to remain in office, we likely won’t see public policies supporting a prevention-based society. That’s why it’s so important to take this message to the public at large, and why I commented here.

If we as a nation were to really focus on wellness & prevention, what might we demand our politicians do? Well, to start they could address poverty, the food supply, and environmental contamination. Then to support corporate wellness programs they could encourage employers to prioritize Sleep, which is a key but too often ignored pillar of health, along with nutrition and exercise.

Related Article

There are so many important articles on health reform here at mHealthTalk, but for this piece I’d like to call out Steven Brill‘s 38-page TIME magazine special report, “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us,” where he dives into our health care system to understand why things cost so much. Unfortunately, the article is now hidden behind a subscriber paywall, but the link I provide is my summary and includes Brill’s video introduction and an interview with him.