Comparing US & OECD Risk Factors

Tom Emerick

Posted 11/30/11 on Cracking Health Costs

In my last two posts we looked at the fact that the US health care costs per person are twice that of OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) member countries, yet our life expectancy at birth has declined relatively over the past 15 years.  We also looked at how we do invasive heart procedures at about twice the rate of OECD members. (See OECD 2011 Health at a Glance.)

When some people see these stats they may say ‘Yes, but people in the US are so much less fit and healthy.’  Hmmm.  Let’s look at the facts.  Data may justify a 10-11% higher heart surgery rate but not one 100% higher than peer countries.


OECD   18.9%

US       33.8%


OECD     2.1%

US       18.1%


OECD     9.1

US         8.8

So, we have about 14.9% more obese people in the US, but we drink about a liter less per person, and our smoking rate is 4% less. if we subtract the smoking rate from the obesity rate, one may conclude that the US population is about 11% less “healthy” than the average OECD member.

Again, my point is data may justify a 10-11% higher heart surgery rate, but not a 100% higher rate!  This is evidence that demands a verdict.

What does a benefit executive do?  Same advice as yesterday:

  • Be informed that something is very wrong with health care in the US.
  • Make a decision to do something about it for your employees.
  • Identify the specialists who overdo procedures and tests.  (Doing this step may be easier than you think. I was examining some data recently and found a specialty practice that was doing costly testing at 20 times the national average. You don’t have to accept that.)
  • Provide incentives for plan members to go to the right surgeons and clinics.

Tom Emerick is a health care consultant for employers and the former VP, Benefits at Walmart. He writes at Cracking Health Costs.

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