Per Capita Spending and Life Expectancy Statistics

by reader Sammy

“Are Per Capita Spending and Life Expectancy Statistics an accurate measure of US Health Care Efficiency?”

Proponents of some degree of nationalization of health care generally cite some variation of the following “The US spends more per capita on health care than any other country, and yet has one of the lowest life expectancies of any developed country” as proof of the need for government intervention. But is that statement meaningful?

This University of Iowa study provides some data that casts some serious doubt.

Let’s break the statement into it’s two parts.

1) “The US spends more per capita…

Yes, but the US makes more per capita. They spend more per capita on LOTS of things as GDP increases.

So the question is, does the US spend more than “expected” given higher GDP. The study conclusion: “Not Obvious” as seen by the graph below.


(rdan…graph corrected)
2) “….. and yet has one of the lowest life expectancies of any developed country.”

(Rdan…My impression is in comments)

This is even more interesting. The US has far higher fatalities from homicide and traffic accidents than other countries which impact the life expectancy statistics.

While this might have some implications regarding crime or traffic legislation, it does not on Health Care, unless one were to assert that US trauma care is dramatically inferior.

So the authors controlled for the differing non-health care related deaths to develop a life expectancy table that could more accurately reflect the relationship between health care quality and life expectancy:

The US jumps from 15th on the list with a life expectancy of 75.3 to 1st with a life expectancy of 76.9.

So one of the central and oft-quoted motivations for government control of health care “The US spends more per capita on health care than any other country, and yet has one of the lowest life expectancies of any developed country” is quite misleading.

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