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American Men Are Sicker, Die Earlier Than Their Global Peers

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Men living in the United States are far sicker than men in similarly wealthy countries, a new report has found. Among other things, American men are more likely to die early from preventable causes than those living in 10 other countries, including Canada, Australia, and the UK. Financially struggling men also tend to be worse off in the US than elsewhere.

The new report is the latest in a series by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit organization focused on health care reform. These reports analyze publicly available data on health outcomes as well as surveys conducted by the organization. And they typically compare the US to its high-income peer countries, with the latest comparisons including Norway, the Netherlands, Australia, the UK, Germany, Canada, New Zealand, France, and Sweden.

Last year, they ranked the US dead last across most health care metrics, including in life expectancy past age 60. In April, another comparison report found that American women of reproductive age were the most likely to die from preventable causes, including during or soon after pregnancy, and they were also the most likely to have trouble paying their medical bills or to avoid seeing doctors over healthcare costs. Unfortunately, the picture isn’t looking any rosier for American men.

According to the report, US men were the most likely to report multiple chronic health problems (29% overall) and second only to Australian men in reporting a need for mental health care (35%). They also had the highest rate of avoidable deaths, defined as dying from preventable causes before the age of 75. These gaps were even larger for American men with “income insecurity,” who were also at higher risk of not being able to pay for their health care and to avoid doctors. Unsurprisingly, American men were the most likely to express dissatisfaction with the current status quo, with only one-third giving the US health care system a high rating.

About the only category where American men are faring better than their peers was with prostate cancer. The mortality rate of prostate cancer was actually lower in the US than in any other nation. But aside from that, men in the US have got the short end of the health stick, the report authors say, despite the country having more resources than others.

One clear factor for this disparity is that the US does not guarantee universal health care coverage to its residents, the authors note. Many of the best-performing countries have also established some form of a single-payer system, where costs are primarily covered by the government, which is in turn funded by taxes.

“This study makes clear that US men are sicker, more stressed, and dying at much higher rates compared to men in other countries,” said Munira Z. Gunja, lead report author and senior researcher for the Commonwealth Fund’s International Program in Health Policy and Practice Innovation, in a statement. “This is largely because so many of them can’t afford the care they need. The United States is the world’s wealthiest democracy, yet its failure to provide universal health care leaves 16 million men uninsured and far more with high out-of-pocket costs.”

A single-payer system in the US, many studies have suggested, would not only provide universal health coverage to Americans but also probably lower health care costs, thanks to fewer administrative resources needed to manage it and greater bargaining power in negotiating with the medical and pharmaceutical industry. The Commonwealth Fund does note that there is much variation in how these systems operate in terms of the government’s role (only some, like the UK, are fully nationalized, with doctors being public employees), and even in single-payer countries, there is still some room for private health insurance.

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