Despite spending more than any other country in the world on healthcare, the U.S. ranked 37th among 191 nations in healthcare delivery, according to a report released last week by the World Health Organization.
France, which spends $2,125 per person--$1,599 less than the U.S.--finished first in the ranking, which was based more on access to care than overall quality of care delivered.
The report examined the overall health of each country; health inequities within the population; how nations respond to problems in their healthcare systems; how well people of varying economic status within a country are served by their system; and how costs are distributed among the population.
E. Richard Brown, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, said he believes the study should be a wake-up call regarding the inefficiencies of healthcare delivery in the U.S.
"We simply don't control how money is spent on a policy basis," Brown said. He added that delivery of healthcare in the U.S. is rife with administrative costs, profit-making and fraud not present in some other countries.
"There is a wide variation of performance, even among countries with similar levels of income and health expenditure," said WHO Director General Gro Harlem Brundtland, M.D.
Oman, which was cited as having a poor healthcare system 30 years ago, finished eighth, even though it spends just $334 per person per year on healthcare. Japan, which spends $1,759 per person, finished 10th, although it was cited by the WHO as having the healthiest citizenry in the world.
The United Kingdom finished 18th on the list, even though it spends only 6% of its gross domestic product on healthcare--less than half what the U.S. spends. Colombia, rated the fairest country in distributing the financial burden for healthcare, finished 22nd.
The U.S., which spends $3,724 per person, was ranked as the most responsive healthcare system, but the report noted that often depends "strongly on the availability of resources" in a particular locality.
Many of the lowest-ranked countries were in Africa, which has been ravaged by the AIDS epidemic and civil warfare.
As a result of its findings, the WHO concluded that most countries underutilize their resources and often ignore the health problems of the poor. It also criticized countries for not paying enough attention to the way healthcare is delivered in the private sector and health systems for failing to enforce regulations designed to protect the public interest. It recommended that countries extend their safety nets, either in the form of affordable health insurance, or have citizens prepay for healthcare through taxes or some other financial mechanism.