US Health Costs Rise As Life Expectancy Drops

"Hey," you may be asking yourself. "Where's the United States on this National Geographic graph comparing health care spending per person and average life expectancy at birth?"

See way up there in the upper left corner? That's the US, spending $7,290 per person, each of whom lives about 78 years – less than just about any country in the Western world. And not even getting that many trips to doctor to show for it.

But that's how it goes when your country's one of the world's few developed nations without universal health coverage. (And look out below, Mexico.)

The United States spends more on medical care per person than any country, yet life expectancy is shorter than in most other developed nations and many developing ones. Lack of health insurance is a factor in life span and contributes to an estimated 45,000 deaths a year. Why the high cost? The U.S. has a fee-for-service system—paying medical providers piecemeal for appointments, surgery, and the like. That can lead to unneeded treatment that doesn’t reliably improve a patient’s health. Says Gerard Anderson, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who studies health insurance worldwide, “More care does not necessarily mean better care.” —Michelle Andrews