In 2001, the US ranks very low (37th) in overall health system performance

US is number 1 in health care spending in 2001

OECD Health Data 2001

When you compare the U.S. health care system to that of other industrialized nations, you will see startling results not only in expenditures but also in outcomes. Data from OECD Health Data 2001gives us comparative health status information on its 30 member countries.

Characteristic US
Health Expenditure per capita, 1998, $US PPP $4,165 $1700
Life expectancy at birth Male: 73.9 Female: 79.4 Male: 73.7 Female: 79.8
Infant mortality 7.2 per 1,000 live births 6.7 per 1,000 live births

These data show that, in spite of ranking at the top of the list for health expenditures, the U.S. falls into the mid-ranges for some broad measures, such as life expectancy and infant mortality.

World Health Organization Report, 2000

Member State Health expenditure per capita in International dollars (Ranking) Overall health system performance




Costa Rica









United States of America



Source: Annex Tables 5-10
World Health Report 2000, WHO

What does this table tell you?

See if you can select the correct answer before reading on

This table tells me that:

A. Oman spends more on health care than the United States per capita
B. The US spends more on health care per capita but ranks very low with respect to overall health system performance
C. Costa Rica has a worse overall health system performance than Chile
D. The World Health Organization doesn’t keep very good records of health expenditures and overall health system performance

The correct answer is B. The U.S. spends more on health care per capita – it is number 1 in spending – but ranks very low (37th) with respect to overall health system performance.

Current Population Reports

A Current Population Reports Special Study says it in a nutshell:

…the United States outspends the world on medical care, but three-fourths of developed countries have better health measures”.

Source of Quotation: Population Profile of the United States 1999, Current Population Reports Special Study, March 2000.

It is important to remember that medical care is just one factor that determines health. Some of the others, such as heredity, lifestyle, and preferences – diet, exercise, use of tobacco and alcohol, to name a few – must also be taken into account.

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