Health Paradox: Why Does U.S. Rank So Low When We Spend So Much?

Feb 12, 2014

Credit Flickr Photo/Sara Westermark (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Why does the U.S. spend much more on health care than other nations, yet lag behind in key measures of wellness? KUOW's Ross Reynolds spoke with author and scholar Lauren Taylor about her research on this perennial question.

“We spend exorbitantly on health care in this country," she said. "We’re up above $8,000 per person per year, whereas the average industrialized country is able to spend less than $4,000 per year on health and attains many better outcomes in terms of maternal mortality, life expectancy and infant mortality."

Taylor relegates the commonly cited causes (high level of poverty, malpractice claims, inefficiency) to secondary status.

"If you have something wrong with you, and you have insurance, and you have access to this system, you can get exceptional care. There’s no denying that," she said. "But on a population basis, we don’t do a very good job of keeping people healthy because there’s not a lot of profit to be made in keeping people healthy."

Credit Elizabeth Bradley and Lauren Taylor's book "The American Health Care Paradox."

She said while the U.S. spends much more on health care than social services, other nations that get better health care results do the opposite: They spend more on social services and less on health care. And spending more on social services like housing, food and transportation reduces health care costs and improves health care on those nations.

Taylor studies public health and medical ethics at Harvard. She worked at Yale on building a model for public health innovations for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is co-author of the book, "The American Health Care Paradox."

Produced for the Web by Akiko Oda.