Is Healthcare the Most Important Problem Facing US Today?

June 29, 2018


Americans say the most important problem facing US today is healthcare, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. The survey analyzed data from January 2018 to June 2018 and showed an increase in public concern regarding the issue. High costs of health insurance, prescription drugs and the ability to choose the right doctor are among the problems most Americans face when dealing with health problems. Despite having one of the most expensive healthcare systems in the world, US lags behind when it comes to performance. The US may soon need to learn more from countries that rank better at keeping their citizens healthy.


Preservation and improvement of health via prevention, early diagnosis and screening and proper treatment of disease are important in any country. It improves the general welfare of its citizens, but it can also contribute to a significant part of the country’s economy. While the US is a top spender in healthcare among the 34 members of OECD countries, it only ranks 26th when it comes to life expectancy in total population at birth. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), life expectancy at birth for the average American male is 76, while that of the American female is 81. Healthy life expectancy at birth for both sexes is 68.5.

Although it does not specifically mention health or healthcare, the Constitution does state that Congress “shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” Our Founders never spoke about healthcare because medicine was primitive at the time, but they did express the need for general welfare and general welfare is and always will be connected to health. Given the fact that healthy life expectancy in the US is 68.5 despite high healthcare costs, there seems to be cause for concern. Can the US look at other countries and learn from their mistakes or success?

The Spanish Story

Spain recently promised to restore free healthcare for illegal migrants, after the former government withdrew the rights to general health care for undocumented expats in 2012, as part of budgetary downsizing. Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa organized a press conference and stated that “healthcare is a right and the protection of health is essential.” Spain offers universal healthcare for all its citizens and their healthcare system is considered to be one of the best in the world. Total health spending accounted for 9.4% of GDP in Spain in 2011, compared to 17.3% in the US. This number is expected to increase up to 18.2 percent for 2018, making the US system one of the most expensive in the world.

Spain does not rank first in the World Health Organization’s Ranking of the World’s Health Systems, but it does rank an honorable 7th, while the US ranks 37th. While it has achieved progress in reducing tobacco, smoking rates in Spain still remain higher than those in the US. Obesity rates among adults have increased in Spain, but obesity is still much less prevalent there than in the US. However, the increase in obesity in adults predicts the rise in health problems related to obesity, like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Higher healthcare costs are likely in the future and only time can tell if the Spanish healthcare system will be a success story or not.

Being No. 1

While Spain ranks 7th in the World Health Organization’s Ranking of the World’s Health Systems, France has the best healthcare system in the world, according to the WHO. The French way also provides universal access to healthcare and is mostly financed by government national health insurance. According to the WHO, France spent 11.5 of GDP on healthcare in 2014, more than the average amount spent by other European countries, but still less than the US. Still, the rising cost of the healthcare system has been a source of concern for the French government.

The French healthcare system promotes both public and private services, relatively high costs, but also high patient success rates and low mortality rates. Also, it emphasizes on high satisfaction among French citizens. It does not come without its own problems, some of which are common for the US system as well, like rising costs of prescription medication and an aging population. While it’s still widely viewed by the American public as “socialized medicine”, the French healthcare system is still regarded as one of the best in the world.

While the life expectancy at birth for the average male is 76 in the US, 80.3 in Spain and 80.1 in France, that of the average female is 81 in the US, 85.7 in Spain and 85.7 in France. According to the WHO, healthy life expectancy at birth for both sexes is 68.5 in the US, compared to 73.8 in Spain and 73.4 in France. As Americans say the most important problem facing US today is healthcare, looking into and adapting solutions that proved right for others may be a good idea for the future.