Can the U.S. Tackle Runaway Health Care Costs and Increase Life Expectancy at the Same Time?

In most developed countries, there is a direct correlation between health care spending and life expectancy. Yet the United States, one of the wealthiest and most industrialized countries in the world, defies this norm.

Per capita spending on health care is higher in the U.S. than anywhere in the world, yet the return on this investment is poor. We rank 26th out of the 34 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in life expectancy, 25th in maternal mortality, and 30th in infant mortality.

More than three-quarters of the $2.6 trillion spent on health care every year goes toward medicine and treatment for preventable chronic conditions.

Bringing health spending more in line with what other nations spend would allow for funding to be used for other priorities such as education, housing, and family support. These priorities improve quality of life and have also been associated with superior health outcomes.

This Health Policy Snapshot, published online in April 2012, examines the areas of runaway health care costs and how public health should refocus on prevention of illness.

Read more from RWJF's Health Policy Snapshot series.

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Over 75% of $2.6 tril spent each yr on health care is for meds & treatment for preventable chronic diseases

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