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U.S. Health Care: High Spending Doesn't Mean High Quality

Prevention of chronic disease is key to making Americans healthier

By Julie Potyraj

By 2050, people aged 65 and older will make up more than 20 percent of the U.S. population. Due to medical advancements and public health initiatives, people are living longer than ever before. However, life expectancy isn’t necessarily a good indicator of health, because longer lives aren’t necessarily healthier lives. And the amount of spending on health care doesn’t translate to quality.

[email protected], the online Master of Health Administration program offered through the Milken Institute School of Public Health and George Washington University, recently created an infographic that compares health care in the United States to the care provided in 16 other countries.

Tops in Spending

The only category topped by the United States is health care expenditure.

The United States falls well behind its peers when it comes to the number of practicing physicians. By 2025, the United States is expected to have a 90,000-physician shortage.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cautions that the “rapid increase in the number of older adults will put pressure on public health and health care systems, and the aging services network, making the role of clinical preventive services even more important.”

Chronic Disease Rampant

Much of this pressure will come from the number of people living with chronic diseases like diabetes, which are both widespread and life threatening. Chronic disease is the leading cause of death for people over the age of 65, and approximately 90 percent of older Americans are living with at least one of these diseases. In addition to keeping people alive longer, we must also work to reduce the rates of chronic disease.

People aged 80 and above are more likely to live with multiple chronic conditions in addition to functional limitations. This debilitating combination leads to an increased demand for emergency medical care and inpatient treatment.


Prevention Is Key

Many chronic diseases are preventable, assuming that people are willing and able to adhere to healthy behaviors. In a publication entitled The Power of Prevention: Chronic Disease…The Public Health Challenge of the 21st Century, the CDC makes the bold claim that “four modifiable health risk behaviors — lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption — are responsible for much of the illness, suffering, and early death related to chronic diseases.” However, these behavioral changes need to happen throughout a person’s life, not just as he or she is approaching old age.

Out of reach treatment costs and an insufficient supply of physicians means that, as the aging population continues to increase, the United States must refocus funding and resources from the treatment of chronic diseases to their prevention.

We are keeping people alive longer, but if the United States doesn’t increase preventive health programs for healthy aging, will we be able to take care of them?

See the infographic below for more detail:

US Health Care Higher Cost Doesnt Equal Quality infographic embed

Brought to you by [email protected]:masters in healthcare administration

Julie Potyraj is the community manager for [email protected], the online Master of Public Health program offered by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. For several years, she served as a community development specialist in rural Zambia coordinating youth empowerment programs and reproductive health education. She is currently an [email protected] student focusing on global health and health communications. Read More
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