Despite spending more money than any other country on health care, the United States does not lead the world in life expectancy, a long-known fact that some experts say could raise more questions in the health-care reform debate.
A study found that better-educated doctors increase the growth rate of life expectancy.
The United States ranks 50th out of 224 nations in life expectancy, with an average life span of 78.1 years, according to 2009 estimates from the CIA World Factbook.
Some argue part of the problem stems from the privatized nature of the U.S. health care system, whose reform is being vigorously debated on Capitol Hill.
"What we are able to find in the industrialized world is that life expectancy will be influenced in a beneficial manner to the extent that health care expenditure is publicly financed," said Harvey Brenner, professor of public health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and Johns Hopkins University. "The higher the government expenditure on health care, the lower will be the mortality rate."
In countries where individuals pay for their own care, people often don't get treatment until their symptoms have become serious, Brenner said. There is also less emphasis on preventative care in those countries, he said.
An analysis by Bianca Frogner, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health, supports the view that a single-payer system may be associated with higher life expectancy. The federal governments of countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Australia and Canada are the payers for the respective systems, and these countries have some of the highest life expectancies in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.
"Inevitably the conversation about reforming our health care system focuses on the question of what are we getting for our money and how are others doing with their health care dollars. Life expectancy, along with mortality and morbidity rates, are fairly straightforward numbers to rely on," Frogner said in an e-mail.