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The US spends more than any other nation in the world on health care, but ranks only 50th among 224 nations in life expectancy, according to the 2009 CIA World Factbook. Experts say that this fact could raise serious questions in the debate over health care reform. Americans have an average life span of 78.1 years; the populations of 49 other nations live longer, on average. Japan is first in life expectancy, at 83 years; Australia, Iceland, Italy, San Marino, Switzerland, Andorra, Canada, and France round out the top 10 countries. Other countries, such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Singapore, Greece, Spain, and Portugal also do better than the US in life expectancy. The bottom 10 nations are, in reverse order, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, Chad, Uganda, Swaziland, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau, with life spans ranging from averages of 41 to 48 years. Some experts note that the US is the only developed nation to have a virtually completely privatized health care system. “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,” says public health professor Harvey Brenner. “The higher the government expenditure on health care, the lower will be the mortality rate.” A study from the University of Chicago shows that a single-payer system—government-run health care—may be associated with higher life expectancy. The governments of such nations as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, and Canada have government-run health care, and their citizens have some of the longest life spans in the world. The author of the study, Bianca Frogner, writes: “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.” Other comparisons show that Scandinavian and other European countries have lower birth mortality numbers than the US, though babies born with abnormally low birth weights tend to fare better in the US system than in the Scandinavian systems. [CNN, 6/11/2009]
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