Americans spend twice as much as residents of other developed countries on health care, but get lower quality, less efficiency and have the least equitable system, according to a report released on Wednesday.
"As an American it just bothers me that with all of our know-how, all of our wealth, that we are not assuring that people who need healthcare can get it," Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis told reporters in a telephone briefing.
Previous reports by the nonprofit Fund, which conducts research into health care performance and which promotes changes in the U.S. system, have been heavily used by policymakers and politicians pressing for health care reform.
Davis said she hoped health reform legislation passed in March would lead to improvements.
The current report uses data from nationally representative patient and physician surveys in seven countries in 2007, 2008, and 2009.
In 2007, health spending was $7,290 per person in the United States, more than double that of any other country in the survey.
Australians spent $3,357, Canadians $3,895, Germans $3,588, the Netherlands $3,837 and Britons spent $2,992 per capita on health in 2007. New Zealand spent the least at $2,454.
And yet Americans get less for their money, said the Commonwealth Fund's Cathy Schoen.
"We rank last on safety and do poorly on several dimensions of quality," Schoen told reporters. "We do particularly poorly on going without care because of cost. And we also do surprisingly poorly on access to primary care and after-hours care."
The report looks at five measures of health care — quality, efficiency, access to care, equity and the ability to lead long, healthy, productive lives.
"On measures of quality the United States ranked 6th out of seven countries," the group said in a statement.
U.S. patients with chronic conditions were the most likely to say they got the wrong drug or had to wait to learn of abnormal test results.
Overall Britain, whose nationalized health care system was widely derided by opponents of U.S. healthcare reform, ranks first, the Commonwealth team found.
"The findings demonstrate the need to quickly implement provisions in the new health reform law and stimulus legislation that focus on strengthening primary care, realigning incentives to reward higher quality and greater value, investing in preventive care, and expanding the use of health information technology," the report reads.
Critics of reports that show Europeans or Australians are healthier than Americans point to the U.S. lifestyle as a bigger factor than healthcare. Americans have higher rates of obesity than other developed countries, for instance.
"On the other hand, the other countries have higher rates of smoking," Davis countered. And Germany, for instance, has a much older population more prone to chronic disease.
Every other system covers all its citizens, the report noted and said the U.S. system, which leaves 46 million Americans or 15 percent of the population without health insurance, is the most unfair.
"The lower the performance score for equity, the lower the performance on other measures. This suggests that, when a country fails to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, it also fails to meet the needs of the average citizen," the report reads.