I have commented before about the striking discordance between the amount of money that we spend on health care in the United States and the health outcomes that we achieve with all of those dollars. At more than $2 trillion dollars per year, or more than $7,000 per citizen per year, the U.S. spends more on health care than virtually every other country in the world. One would, therefore, assume that all of those trillions of health care dollars would translate into a globally unsurpassed level of health and well being in America. However, one would actually be mistaken in this assumption, as the United States lags behind many other countries of the world, including a few relatively underdeveloped countries, in several very important public health benchmarks. As if this were not bad enough, the world’s richest nation has an estimated 47 million uninsured citizens, with millions more possessing utterly inadequate health insurance coverage (millions of us in this country are just one serious illness away from financial ruin).
Health care reform in the United States continues to be a political “third rail,” although virtually all stakeholders are in agreement that our healthcare system is dysfunctional and inefficient, and that it offers the American people very poor value for their money. However, there is considerable disagreement regarding the root causes that underlie the acknowledged deficiencies in our health care system, which means that there is also pervasive disagreement regarding the best interventions to undertake. Amidst the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and with no end in sight to the ongoing Not-Quite-As-Great-Depression, it is unclear whether or not the fledgling Obama Administration will be able to assemble the political capital and the will to wade into the treacherous waters of health care reform within the foreseeable future.
A new research study, just published in the American Journal of Public Health, provides a rather stark comparison between the health status of rich and poor adults in the United States and Europe. In this study, more than 17,000 ad