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U.S. health care spending highest, Japan lowest: study

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WASHINGTON — A study of 13 industrialized countries released Thursday showed Japan spends the least on health care, while the United States spends the most without providing superior care for the money.

The United States spent nearly $8,000 per person in 2009 on health care services, more than Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden or Switzerland.

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Japan spent the least — $2,878 per capita in 2008 — according to the report by The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that promotes improved health care in the United States.

US health care spending amounted to more than 17 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, while Japan’s was under nine percent of GDP.

“Japan operates a fee-for-service system, while offering unrestricted access to specialists and hospitals and a large supply of MRI and CT scanners,” said the report.

“Rather than containing costs by restricting access, Japan instead sets health care prices to keep total health spending within a budget allotted by the government.”

In contrast, the US system is beleaguered by higher prices, more readily accessible technology and widespread obesity.

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The United States had among the highest rates of potentially preventable deaths due to asthma and diabetes-linked amputations, and showed average rates of in-hospital deaths from heart attack and stroke, it said.

Common prescription drugs cost one third more in the United States compared to Canada and Germany, and were more than double that paid for the same drugs in Australia, Britain, France, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

“It is a common assumption that Americans get more health care services than people in other countries, but in fact we do not go to the doctor or the hospital as often,” said study author David Squires, senior research associate at The Commonwealth Fund.

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“The higher prices we pay for health care and perhaps our greater use of expensive technology are the more likely explanations for high health spending in the US. Unfortunately, we do not seem to get better quality for this higher spending.”

Data for the study came from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and other sources, the foundation said.

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