Even rich Americans don’t get world-class health care, study finds

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In a new study, researchers found that even the most privileged people in the United States with the best access to health care are sicker and more likely to die than average folks in other developed nations.

They found people living in the highest-income counties in the United States are, on average, more likely to die from a heart attack or cancer, during childbirth, or to lose an infant than people in 12 other industrialized countries.

These results show that the health care system has a lot of room for improvement.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of Pennsylvania.

In the study, the team compared the health outcomes of white U.S. citizens living in the nation’s 1% and 5% richest counties with outcomes in Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

They found that residents of the targeted U.S. counties—where the average household income is about $84,000 a year—had better health outcomes overall than average Americans.

But in comparison to average folks in other nations, where the average income is much lower:

Nearly 13% of privileged Americans aged 65 or older die from a heart attack, while the rate across Norway is 10% and in Denmark nearly 11%.

Infant mortality among wealthy white Americans is 3.5 to 4 deaths per 1,000 live births. That’s higher than all 12 comparison countries.

Maternal death during childbirth also is higher among privileged white Americans, with 26 women dying for every 100,000 live births in the United States.

Survival rates for colon cancer and childhood cancers in the 5% highest-income U.S. counties lag behind most other developed nations.

In only one area was America the best in the world. That was breast cancer treatment. Regular mammograms and decades of breast cancer awareness campaigns have given the United States an edge.

Even the nation’s most well-off suffer from poorer health outcomes than other developed nations because the U.S. health care system is incredibly fragmented.

Patients must deal with multiple layers of doctors, specialists, pharmacists and insurers to have their ailments treated.

In other nations, health care is more streamlined and patient data is more easily shared between doctors.

The team says that the fragmented nature of U.S. health care means that patients are forced to advocate for themselves, a task that even the most privileged find daunting.

One author of the study is Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, chairman of medical ethics and health policy.

The study is published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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