US has worst record of death from treatable disease

By Nicholas Timmins
Financial Times
January 8 2008

More US patients die from diseases that could be treated by timely intervention than in any other leading industrialised country, a study by top health academics showed yesterday.

A decade ago, the US had the fourth worst record among a group of 19 industrialised countries in terms of deaths per 100,000 people from diseases that are amenable to treatment. These include infections, treatable cancers, diabetes, and heart and vascular disease, according to Ellen Nolte and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Over the succeeding five years, the number of such deaths in the US fell from 115 per 100,000 to 110. But other countries improved faster, leaving the US with the worst record, behind Portugal, Ireland and the UK, where the preventable death rate runs at 103 or 104 per 100,000.

"If the US performed as well as the top three countries in the study" - France, with 65 deaths per 100,000, and Japan and Australia, both with 71 per 100,000 - "there would have been 101,000 fewer deaths per year," the authors write in the journal Health Affairs.

The study looks at preventable deaths below the age of 75 and found that while most countries had made big strides in reducing them over the past decade, with an average fall of 17 per cent, the US experienced only a 4 per cent decline.

With the rising cost of healthcare and numbers of uninsured becoming issues in the US presidential campaign, the authors say it is "difficult to disregard the observation" that the slow fall in the US preventable death rate "has coincided with an increase in the uninsured population".

Cathy Schoen, senior vice- president of the Commonwealth Fund, which supported the research, said: "It is starting to see the US falling even further behind on this crucial indicator."

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008