Intl-header-3

intl-quote-1In terms of overall wellness, prevalence of chronic diseases, healthcare access, and cost, the United States lags behind other developed countries with similar economies and levels of social development.

This report collects international healthcare studies from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the World Health Organization (WHO), and other sources to compare the health status of U.S. citizens with that of citizens in other developed nations. We examine three key dimensions: population health, healthcare system design, and healthcare costs.

Although the United States spends the most on healthcare among developed countries, its citizens have lower overall health scores, higher infant mortality rates, and, as of 2023, approximately 25 million people lacked access to the healthcare system through insurance​ (CDC)​​ (ASPE)​. Not only are individuals at a disadvantage, but the entire system is dysfunctional. Key challenges include heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and preventative healthcare. U.S. healthcare costs and basic care prevention lag behind those of other developed nations. Additionally, the general public is not well-informed about complementary and alternative care, and the current system marginalizes these options​ (KFF.

A Multi-disciplinary solutions

A paradigm shift needs to occur in medicine and healthcare, one that will not only affect the economics of healthcare but also fundamentally change how we understand, treat, and prevent illness. The United States leads developed nations in the percentage of citizens with high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes​ (CDC)​​ (www.heart.org)​. Americans’ life expectancy is lower than that of other comparable countries, and its infant mortality rate is higher than average​ (World Health Organization (WHO))​​ (CDC)​.

Poor and minority citizens, particularly African Americans, face even worse-than-average health realities. Poverty and race negatively affect interactions with the health system, primarily through limited access to appropriate services. African American males continue to have the lowest life expectancy in the United States. African Americans die at much higher rates in middle age due to HIV, cardiovascular disease, and other often treatable conditions. Additionally, women of color have overall lower rates of regular mammograms, which experts suggest contributes to their higher breast cancer mortality rates​ (KFF)​​ (CDC)​.

Education and Economics

Education and economics play the most significant roles in determining health status. Educating more people about natural healthcare options and prevention is crucial. For example, when a new virus makes the news, media outlets almost exclusively turn to biomedical doctors as expert authorities, often excluding alternative and complementary medicine perspectives.

Other systems like Chinese medicine and naturopathy are not part of the mainstream healthcare ecosystem. Despite being effective systems used by millions, they lack the influence and political clout that biomedicine holds. Consequently, the public is largely unaware of the available alternatives.

We can walk into any pharmacy and some grocessy stores and find whole shelves full of 50 different cold medicines. They are advertised everywhere. Yet I know of a Chinese herbal formula that’s been around for thousands of years that actually, if taken within the first 24 hours of a cold at a high dosage, can sometimes stop the cold in its tracks and certainly shorten it by much more than anything available in the drugstore, all without any negative side-effects. But how many people know about it? Hardly anybody.

intl-quote-3The impact of corporate advertizing, the role money, the power media, plays in the United States health care system and popular choices. We need to clearly see how a health care system spends its money as this is indicative of larger cultural attitudes toward health and healing and what our priorities are.

The simplest thing we can do to improve health care is to teach people about the importance of diet, but that’s not where the money is going. The money is going to pay for high-tech alternatives to treating people rather than preventative medicine. It’s going to treatement rather than more effective prevention. 

The U.S. healthcare system has the highest percentage of private spending among similar countries and the highest overall spending in the world. In 2022, the United States spent $13,493 per person on health, which is more than twice the average spending of other high-income nations, which is about $6,651 per person​ (Health System Tracker)​​ (Health System Tracker)​. Despite this high expenditure, only the United States and Mexico among OECD countries cover less than half of the medical costs for their citizens​ (Health System Tracker)​.

As of recent reports, around 8.6% of Americans are still uninsured​ (HHS.gov)​. Poverty and race continue to negatively affect interactions with the health system, primarily through access to appropriate services. Poor and minority citizens, particularly African Americans and Hispanics, have lower life expectancies and higher rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and breast cancer​ (KFF)​​ (CDC)​. These disparities highlight the need for systemic changes to ensure equitable healthcare access for all Americans.

Making the connections

Despite the United States’ massive spending on health care, it has not achieved consequential improvements in length or quality of life; it falls well below comparable countries in its spending-to-health ratio. Quantity of life can refer to length of life, which the U.S. has extended, just not as much as some other countries. We need an approach that illuminates the interplay of a variety of health factors. This moves beyond just “understanding,” but finding solutions, which emerge from systemic approach.

A systematic change to a country’s healthcare system requires both individual and societal-level changes as part of a paradigm shift. Americans face serious challenges to their overall quality of life. Researchers have found that nearly 42% of U.S. adults have obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher​ (TFAH)​​ (Health.gov)​. Furthermore, nearly 70% of U.S. citizens report a BMI higher than what doctors recommend for good health​ (EHProject)​. Obesity is associated with numerous chronic diseases, including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. In fact, about 47% of U.S. adults have at least one of the major risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking​ (CDC)​.

Individual-level change can come through maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular exercise, and eating a diet low in fats and sugars. Physical inactivity and poor diet are significant contributors to these health issues. Only 23% of U.S. adults meet the federal physical activity guidelines, and the average American diet exceeds recommended limits on calories from solid fats and added sugars​ (Health.gov)​. Moreover, socio-economic factors play a critical role; adults with lower education levels have higher obesity rates, with 37.6% of those without a high school diploma affected​ (CDC)​.

Additionally, disparities exist among racial and ethnic groups. African American and Hispanic adults have the highest obesity rates at 49.9% and 45.6%, respectively, compared to 41.4% among White adults​ (TFAH)​. These disparities also contribute to higher rates of related chronic diseases within these communities​ (KFF)​​ (CDC)​.

Addressing these issues requires comprehensive public health strategies and policies that promote healthy lifestyles, improve access to nutritious foods, and create environments that support physical activity​ (CDC)​​ (Health.gov)​.

We can look to countries such as China and Germany for interesting healthcare models. China’s system is notable for its strong collaboration between traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and biomedical doctors. TCM, which includes practices such as herbal remedies, acupuncture, and massage, accounts for around 40% of all healthcare delivered in China. This integrated approach is supported by government policies and extensive research into the effectiveness of traditional treatments​ (China Daily)​​ (BMJ)​. Germany’s healthcare model prioritizes universal access, ensuring all citizens have coverage through a combination of statutory health insurance and private health insurance. This system is well-funded, allowing for comprehensive and equitable healthcare services​ (KFF)​. A “best practices” approach that evaluates and adopts effective elements from these models will improve the U.S. healthcare system by promoting integration of alternative medicine and ensuring universal access to care.

To change entrenched networks, complext networks of interlinking government institutes, and economic powers like pharmaceutical companies with powerful political influences, requires political power. People at the grass roots can influence political power. 

In March of 2010, the U.S. Affordable Care Act (ACA) became law, implementing a variety of changes within the U.S. healthcare system. According to HealthCare.gov, the initiative’s official site run by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, these changes include prescription drug discounts, expanded coverage for young adults, small business tax credits, pre-existing condition insurance plans, increased Medicaid coverage, expanding coverage for early retirees, free preventative care in certain situations, eliminating limits on insurance coverage, bringing down insurance premiums, and other initiatives​ (KFF)​​ (Health.gov)​.

The ACA has significantly impacted healthcare coverage in the U.S. For instance, the percentage of uninsured Americans dropped from 16% in 2010 to 8.6% in 2022​ (HHS.gov)​​ (KFF)​. The ACA's provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26 resulted in an estimated 2.3 million young adults gaining coverage​ (KFF)​. Additionally, the expansion of Medicaid has provided coverage to over 12 million low-income adults who were previously uninsured​ (KFF)​​ (CDC)​. The ACA also mandates free preventative care, which has led to an increase in the use of preventative services such as cancer screenings and vaccinations​ (KFF)​. Overall, these changes have contributed to improved access to healthcare and better health outcomes for many Americans​(KFF)​​ (CDC)​.

Although there is progress that has been made, the changes are rooted in a biomedical paradigm and the does not change any of the networks that support the current dysfunction in the system.