Pan American Health Organization

United States of America

  • Overall Context
  • Leading Health Challenges
  • Health Situation and Trends
  • Prospects
  • References
  • Full Article
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Overall Context

Flag of the United States of AmericaThe United States has the largest economy in the world—with a gross domestic product (GDP) of over US$ 18 trillion and a per capita income of nearly US$ 56,116 (). The country comprises 50 states and several politically designated territories and commonwealths, of which Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa are just a few. It is one of the original members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Group of 7, and is part of a broad range of international organizations and treaties.

Demographics

The U.S. population rose 4.1% between 2010 and 2015, from 303,956,272 to 316,515,021 (), making it the country with the third-highest population in the world. Its population is growing older, with the median age increasing from 36.9 years in 2010 to 37.6 years in 2015 (). Further, while the population over 18 years rose 5.6% to 242,831,196 or 76.6% of the total population, the population over 65 years rose 15.1% to 44,615,477 or 14.1% of the total population; the age group 65 to 74 increased nearly 23% to 25,135,167 (). Females comprise over 56% of the population over 65 years (). The population under 18 years fell in those years, dropping 1.1%, to 23.3% of the total population (). Figure 1 shows the population structure in the United States in 1990 and in 2015.

Figure 1. Population structure, by age and sex, United States of America, 1990 and 2015

The United States population increased 27.3% between 1990 and 2015. In 1990, the population structure reflected factors such as the aging of the baby-boom generation and migration trends (wider groups in middle age groups). By 2015, the pyramidal structure shifted to age groups older than 50 years, becoming stationary under that age, reflecting decreases in birth rate and mortality in the last decades.

Source: Pan American Health Organization, based on data from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Division of Population, New York, 2015. Updated 2015.

The population of the United States became more racially and ethnically diverse in 2015. Since 2010, the Hispanic population rose 13.6%, to 54.2 million persons, representing 17.1% of the total population (). Hispanics of Mexican descent make up 34.6 million or nearly 65% of all Hispanics. While the non-Hispanic white population grew 2.4% to 197.3 million, it fell from 64.7% to 62.3% of the total population (). The non-Hispanic black population rose 4.5% since 2010, but remained 12% of the total population (). The Asian population increased 14.5%, to 16.1 million, during that period (). Persons reporting two or more races grew nearly 31%, from 5.3 to 7 million, comprising 2.2% of the total population ().

The native-born population in 2015 comprised 86.8% of the U.S. population; however, from 2010 to 2015, the foreign-born population increased to represent 13.2% of the total population (). In 2015, the foreign-born population accounted for 19.6%, 16.0%, 11.4%, and 6.9% of the West, Northeast, South, and Midwest regions of the United States (). A greater proportion of the U.S. population is aging and becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, which will create different demands and strains from social and health support systems, especially at a time of already tight state and federal budgets.

Social Determinants of Health

Of the 116.9 million households in the United States, 77.3 million are family households with a mean income of US$ 88,153; non-family households comprise 39.7 million households, with a mean income of US$ 47,846 (). Of family households, over 12.1 million families make less than US$ 25,000 per year and 22.9 million families make over US$ 100,000 per year (). From 2010 to 2016, the number of families earning over US$ 100,000 rose 13.9%; those earning $25,000 to $99,999 fell by 1.6%; those making under US$ 25,000 barely changed (0.1%) (). In 2014 the mean household income for those in the top quintile (20%) was US$ 193,457, compared to US$ 11,952 for those in the bottom quintile (); the top 5% had a median income of US$ 344,707 ().

In 2015, the percentage of families living in poverty was 11.3% (); 18% of families with related children under 18 years lived in poverty (). Just over 8% of married couples with related children under 18 were living in poverty, compared to 40.5% of families with children under 18 years in families headed by a female householder with no husband (). Nearly 22% of the total US population under 18 years was in poverty (). Over 9% of persons over 65 years of age were in poverty ().

Income inequality also has worsened in the United States. In 2014, the Gini index reached its highest in the United States since 1967 (). In 2010-2014, of the 3,142 counties in the United States, 1,301 (41%) were considered to be high-inequality, high-poverty, compared to only 29% in 1989; 379 (12%) were considered to be high-poverty, low-inequality (). Of counties with small and mid-sized cities, 46% were experiencing high levels of inequality and poverty—a 24% increase since 1989 (). Inequality and poverty increased more slowly in rural counties than in metropolitan areas (). Previously, income inequality and poverty were seen mainly in rural counties of Appalachia, the Deep South, and the Southwest, but now this has spread to new areas, especially in the South (). Most of the low-inequality, low-poverty counties are located in the upper Midwest, Mountain, Middle Atlantic, South Atlantic, and New England states ().

Along with high income-inequality and poverty rates, food and housing insecurity are key social determinants that have an impact on health disparities. Of persons surveyed in 15 states in 2013, the estimated prevalence of perceived food security ranged from 68.5% (Arkansas) to 82.4% (Minnesota); overall, non-Hispanic whites reported being less worried or stressed about having enough money to buy food (81.8%), compared to non-Hispanic blacks (68.5%) and Hispanics (64.6%) (). Food security was highest in persons with four years or more of college education (89.0%); lower in persons with a high-school degree or less than four years of college (75.7%); and lowest in those without any high-school education (59.9%) (). The prevalence rates on housing security were lowest in Arkansas (59.9%) and highest in Minnesota (72.7%) and Iowa (72.8%); with higher insecurity seen among minorities and persons with lower educational levels ().

The Health System

The country’s health system is vast and complex. In terms of hospital facilities, in 2013, there were 5,686 hospitals in the United States down from 5,754 in 2010 (). Most of these hospitals are non-federal hospitals (96.3%), of which 4,974 are community hospitals (). Among those community hospitals, much of the care was provided by the 2,904 not-for-profit hospitals (58.4%); 1,010 community hospitals (21.3%) were state- or local-run community hospitals (). Over 21% () were for-profit community hospitals (). For all hospitals, there were 914,513 beds devoted to patient care in 2014—down from 941,995 beds in 2010 (); of those 875,766 beds, were at nonfederal community hospitals, with 68.4% (543,929 beds) located in not-for-profit community hospitals; 14.1% (117,031 beds) in state or local community hospitals; and 16.9% (134,643 beds) in for-profit hospitals (). Community hospital occupancy rates fell from 64.5% to 62.9% from 2010 to 2013—a decline of 2.5%. For-profit hospitals had the lowest occupancy rates (56.2%) compared with 62.9% for state-local hospitals and 64.5% for not-for-profit hospitals (). The decline in occupancy rates has been occurring for many years, as health care shifts from more expensive inpatient care to provision of services in outpatient settings.

Nursing homes also declined during the period, both in number of installations and beds and in occupancy rates. The number of nursing homes declined 7.5%, from 16,886 facilities in 2000 to 15,643 in 2014, and the number beds dropped 5.7%, from 1.8 million beds in 2000 to under 1.7 million in 2014 (). Nursing home residents decreased 7.5%, from 1,480,076 in 2000 to 1,368,667 in 2014 (). Nursing home occupancy rates fell from 82.4% in 2000 to 80.8% in 2014 (). With the population aging more rapidly over the last few years and in the next decade, along with rising health care costs, the push has been to shift the provision of long-term care systems from institutional-based care to home- and community-based services.

Leading Health Challenges

Critical Health Problems

Emerging Diseases

The recent emergence of Zika and chikungunya in the Americas has heightened awareness in the United States of the need for greater vigilance in monitoring infectious diseases that pose a threat to public health. Zika is only one of several viral infections and/or neglected diseases to have affected the country in recent memory. Back in the 1980s, for example, the United States, and the world, experienced the emergence of a “new” disease (HIV) and the resurgence of a long-neglected illness (tuberculosis). Then, in the 1990s, cyclospora became a major concern for health officials, as it affected the safety of the food supply. The threat of anthrax and smallpox in the early 2000s reminded Americans of the potential for intentional releases of infectious diseases to threaten the security and health of the nation and, more critically, how such outbreaks could overload the public health response system and weaken public confidence in its ability to manage it. Zoonotic diseases, such as mosquito- and tick-borne illnesses, pose a rising danger to many U.S. populations, as people continue to settle into the more humid, subtropical, and dry-arid areas of the country. Tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever continue to affect large segments of the population living in forested and sub-rural or rural regions. Recent droughts in the Southwest have increased the incidence of Coccidioidomycosis, a fungal infection seen in soils prevalent in the Southwest. Climate change and the altering of the physical environment to accommodate population and industrial activity have only heightened these challenges.

Maternal Mortality

A recent review was conducted of the accuracy of the measurement of maternal mortality in the United States (). As part of the review, methodological changes were made to more accurately measure maternal mortality. While maternal mortality is a rare event in the United States, the number of maternal deaths rose from 396 deaths in 2000 to 856 deaths in 2014 (). In addition, the maternal mortality rate increased by 26.6% in 48 states and in Washington D.C., rising from 18.8 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 23.8 in 2014 (); these rates are higher than previously reported and put the United States far behind other industrialized nations (). While most of the country experienced a rise in maternal mortality rates, California reported declines (), a drop that may be due to a statewide initiative to develop and promote evidence-based tool kits to address two of the most common, preventable contributors to maternal death (obstetric hemorrhage and preeclampsia) (). Texas had slight increases in maternal mortality from 2000 to 2010, which then doubled within a two-year period (). While evidence to explain this spike is not conclusive, the reduction of and access to women’s health centers during this period may be to blame (). Other indications, such as the number of cesarean deliveries, unintended births, unmarried status, being non-Hispanic black, and having had four or fewer prenatal visits have been associated with higher maternal mortality ().

Poisoning Deaths Due to Opioids

Since 1990, the country has experienced a spike in the number of deaths due to drug poisoning (drug overdoses); since 2000, nearly half a million persons have died from such drug overdoses (). Overall, drug-poisoning mortality skyrocketed by 137.1%, from 6.2 deaths per 100,000 population in 2000 to 14.7 in 2014 (). In 2014, 47,055 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States (). The rate of drug overdose deaths rose faster in females (177%) compared to males (120%) from 2000 to 2014 (). Rates increased significantly among persons aged 25-44 years and 55 years and older among non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks; and in the country’s Midwest, Northeast, and South (). The main driver behind this increase has been drug poisoning involving opioid analgesics (prescription opioids), heroin, and synthetic opioids other than methadone (e.g., fentanyl) (). While most age groups between 24 and 65 years old experienced increasing death rates since 2010, it was the 55-64 age group that experienced the greatest increase—383% (). Over this period, mortality rates due to drug poisoning involving opioid analgesics rose 293%; more alarming was the 386% rise in death rates involving heroin (). According to some reports, illicit fentanyl combined with heroin is then sold as heroin, possibly contributing to the increase in drug deaths involving heroin ().

The nature of the epidemic also has changed since 2000. The heroin-overdose-related deaths seen among non-Hispanic blacks aged 45-64 (highest among all groups) in 2000 were eclipsed by the substantial rates seen among non-Hispanic whites aged 18-44 in 2013 (). While the age-adjusted rates for heroin overdose increased in all regions of the country, they were highest in the Midwest (an 11-fold increase from 2000) and the Northeast (a 4-fold increase from 2000) (). Since 2000, drug-poisoning deaths due to opioid analgesics rose most among non-Hispanic white males (304%) and females (400%), compared to the rise in rates among non-Hispanic black males and females (225% and 333%) and among Hispanic males and females (59% and 220%) (). Non-Hispanic white males and females had the highest age-adjusted mortality rates involving opioid analgesics in 2014, followed by American Indian and Alaskan Native males and females ().

Accidents and Violence

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 36,132 deaths related to firearms in 2015, with an age-adjusted rate of 11.1 per 100,000 population (). The higher rates over 11.4 to 23.4 per 100,000 population were generally located in the South, Central, and Rocky Mountain regions (). Alaska, Louisiana, and Wyoming and Alabama (the last two were tied) reported the highest rates of 23.4, 20.4, and 19.6 deaths per 100,000, respectively, and New York, Hawaii, and Massachusetts, the lowest, at 4.2, 3.6 and 3.0 per 100,000 population, respectively ().

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has recently become a major health concern in the country, driven by exposure to gun violence/violent personal assaults, natural- or human-caused disasters, accidents, military combat, and other traumatic events. The lifetime prevalence of PTSD in the U.S. population is 6.8% (); the average yearly prevalence is 3.5% of the adult population, with 36.6% of cases classified as severe, representing 1.3% of the adult population (). The average age of onset is 23 years, with 6.3% prevalence in those aged 18-29; 8.2% in ages 30-44; 9.2% in ages 45-59; and 2.5% in those older than 60 (). In the past 12 months as of this writing, 49.9% of those with PTSD were receiving treatment, with 42.0% of those receiving the minimally adequate treatment, or 21% of all those with the disorder ().

Chronic Conditions

Some 117 million adults (about half of all adults in the United States) had one or more chronic health conditions in 2012, with one in four having two or more chronic health conditions ().

As the U.S. population has aged, and life spans in the country have increased, so have the number and type of comorbidities. The circumstances surrounding multiple chronic conditions vary in terms of age and other socio-demographic factors. In 2014, persons over 18 years old were more likely to have had one or no chronic diseases (76.9%), compared to those with two to three chronic conditions (19.1%) or those with four or more (3.9%) (). Although the percentage of those experiencing one or no chronic conditions declined by nearly 2% between 2002 and 2014, it rose by 6.7% for those with two-to-three chronic conditions and by 8.3% for those with four or more (). More importantly, those older than 65 years were more likely to report two-to-three and even four or more chronic conditions than did younger age groups (). In 2002-2014, the number of persons 75 years old and older who suffered one or no chronic conditions fell more than 10%, from 44.6% to 39.9%, but increased 6.2% among those 65 years and older who reported having two-to-three conditions, from 43.4% to 46.0% (a 6.2% rise), and 17.5% for those reporting four or more conditions, 12.0% to 14.1% (). The percentage of those reporting having one or no chronic condition declined between those 12 years, and held regardless of gender, race and ethnic group, or poverty status (). Furthermore, those same groups reported an increase in prevalence of having two-to-three and four-or-more conditions, except for those below 100% and above 400% of poverty, who reported a slight decrease (). In 2014, those living in urban areas were more likely to report having one or no chronic conditions (77.8%) compared to those in rural areas (72.0%); those living in rural areas were more likely to report having two-to-three conditions (23.2%) and four or more conditions (4.8%) than did those in urban areas 18.4% and 3.8%, respectively ().

Changes in the risk factors associated with chronic disease varied during the reporting period. For example, the prevalence of hypercholesterolemia (very high cholesterol)—a major risk factor for health disease—increased in adults age 20 and older, from 25.5% in 1999-2001 to 27.4% in 2013–2014 (). On the other hand, the prevalence of high cholesterol declined from 18.3% in 1999-2001 to 11.1% in 2013–2014 (). The prevalence of overweight, which includes obesity—a major risk factor for many chronic diseases, from heart disease and cancer to diabetes—rose from 64.5% to 70.4%, with those who are obese rising from 30.5% to 37.8% during this period (). The prevalence of hypertension rose slightly, from 30.0% in 1999-2001 to 30.8% in 2013–2014 (). The prevalence rate of persons older than age 20 whose hypertension was uncontrolled declined from 71.9% to 51.3% during this period (). The prevalence of smoking—by far the most important risk factor for chronic lower respiratory disease (CLRD)—declined in the U.S. population overall, but remained higher among adults living in urban areas (). States with a higher percentage of rural population often have a higher prevalence of smoking, earlier age at onset of smoking, and higher use of cigarettes (). The prevalence of persons who were overweight or obese increased from 40.5% in 1960 to 66.1% in 2010. The prevalence among adults age 18 years and older who met federal physical activity guidelines was lower in rural areas and the gap between rural and urban areas widened between 1998 and 2014 ().

Human Resources

The health care sector in the U.S. employs over 12.5 million people, about 9.0% of the total work force. This workforce encompasses jobs from janitorial, to clinical care, to executive/administrative and support services.

From 2010 to 2013, the number of physicians rose 7.5%, (to 1,045,910), of which nearly 82% () were actively engaged in the profession (); 636,707 (74%) are graduates of U.S. medical schools and 217,991 are graduates of international medical schools (). Of the physicians who are actively practicing, almost 95% are involved in patient care—an increase of 7.6% from 2010 (); of those, 74.2 % are in office-based care compared to 25.8% in hospital-based care (). Of the 854,698 active physicians, 37.4% are in general primary care and 10.5% are primary care subspecialists (). In 2013, there were 27.6 physicians per 10,000 population involved in patient care, ranging from 18.6 per 10,000 in Idaho to 66.1 in the District of Columbia (). There were 191,347 dentists in the United States in 2013, an increase of nearly 3% since 2012 (). In 2013, there were 60.5 per 100,000 population dentists who were professionally active, ranging from a low in Arkansas at 40.9 to a high in the District of Columbia at 89.2 ().

In 2014, more than 10 million people were employed as health care practitioners and technical and support personnel in the United States, an increase of 2.7% since 2010 (); over 64%, or 6.4 million persons, were employed as health care practitioners and technical service personnel, of which nearly 2.7 million (41.8%) were registered nurses (); the number of registered nurses increased 1.2% from 2,655,020 in 2010 to 2,687,310 in 2014. Although, nurse practitioners made up only 1.9% of this labor force, their numbers increased by 15.4%, from 105,780 in 2012 to 122,050 in 2014 (). In addition, the number of pharmacists increased by 8.5% to almost 291,000, or 4.5% of this occupational group in 2014 (); pharmacy technicians comprised 5.7% of this category (). Over 3.6 million people are employed in health care support occupations, nearly 36% of the health care practitioner and technical and support workforce (). While nursing assistants comprise nearly 40%, or 1.43 million, of the health care support professions, their numbers declined by 1.6% since 2010 (). Medical assistants and those involved in therapy support saw substantial increases in employment opportunities since 2010 ().

Health Knowledge, Technology, and Information

The 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act provided hospitals and eligible providers with monetary incentives for phasing in the use of electronic health record (EHR) systems and meeting federal standards of “meaningful use” of such systems ().

By 2015, nearly 78% of office-based physicians had a certified EHR system, up from 74.1% in 2014 (). Moreover, roughly one-third of all office-based physicians had electronically sent (38.2%), received (38.3%), integrated (31.1%), or searched for patient health information from other providers (34.0%) (). That said, the percentage of physicians who met all those criteria varied considerably by state. For example, the percentage of physicians who had electronically sent patient information to other providers ranged from 19.4% in Idaho to 56.3% in Arizona, while the physicians who had electronically received patient information from other providers ranged from 23.6% in Louisiana and Mississippi to 65.5% in Wisconsin (). Physicians who had electronically integrated patient information from other providers varied from 18.4% in Alaska to 49.3% in Delaware, whereas physicians who had electronically searched for such information from outside providers varied widely, from 15.1% in the District of Columbia to 61.2% in Oregon (). Since 2006, the percentage of physicians who reported having an EHR system that met the criteria for a basic system increased 336%, from 11% in 2006 to 48% in 2013 (), although the rate of adoption of basic systems ranged from 21% in New Jersey to 83% in North Dakota ().

The adoption and use of EHRs by hospital emergency departments also varied widely. In 2011, 83.7% of emergency departments had adopted an EHR, up from 46.2% in 2006; and 73.3% of hospital outpatient departments had adopted an EHR, up from 29.4% in 2006 (). From 2007 through 2011, the percentage of hospital-based emergency rooms that had an EHR system that met the criteria for a basic system increased from 18.5% to 53.6%; the rates for outpatient departments ranged from 8.9% to 57.4% ().

The Environment and Human Security

Between 2005 and 2015, the country experienced extreme or exceptional droughts. The National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that every state, except those in the Northeast, and Alaska, experienced such phenomena during that period (). To put this in perspective, between 1980 and 2014, the United States experienced 22 droughts that cost over US$ 1 billion each (). In 2012, the country experienced the most extensive drought since the 1930s, affecting over half of the nation and costing US$ 31 billion (). In California alone, the current drought has cost nearly US$ 5 billion (). Droughts increase the risk of fires and dust storms, which, in turn, release particles harmful to respiratory health and contribute to or worsen infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Plus, dry and dusty soils can increase the risk of Valley fever and other fungal or viral diseases injurious to respiratory health. Droughts obviously directly affect access to and quality of water. While the short-term impact of droughts can be measured, the long-term effects of prolonged drought are not easily ascertained.

The importance of having accessible and safe drinking water for a population’s overall health and well-being has been well documented. The Flint, Michigan, water contamination crisis highlights not only the concern about water safety but the costs of not addressing deteriorating infrastructure. The economic decline of many manufacturing areas of the nation has resulted in delayed maintenance and expansion of water procurement and treatment, not only of potable water but the treatment of sewage and toxic waste from the populace and factories, both functioning and derelict. Flint is just one of many cities facing this crisis. The nuclear waste that could potentially leak from the Hanford Nuclear facility in Washington State could have serious environmental and health repercussions from ground water contamination, to contamination of riparian and other ecosystems, potentially and irrevocably altering these environments. Mining and drilling operations often pose serious localized threats to contamination of underground and aboveground water supplies as has been witnessed in many areas of rural Appalachia.

In regards to air quality, the long-term heat exposure from droughts throughout the western and southern areas of the United States may be associated with episodes of respiratory illness and deaths and with the potential spread of dust- and soilborne infections. In the 1980s, airborne pollutants from coal-burning, electricity-generating plants and factories in the Midwest contributed to an increase in sulfur dioxide, CO2, and other particulates, which may have been associated with respiratory illness and deaths.

Aging

Since 1990, the life expectancy at birth in the United States has risen 4.5%, from 75.4 to 78.8 years in 2014, while life expectancy at 65 years rose 12.2%, from 17.2 to 19.3 years (). Life expectancy at birth has increased for males and females, with females’ rising by 3.0% to 81.2 years and males’ by 6.4% to 76.4 years (). Between 2010 and 2014, life expectancy for non-Hispanic whites remained unchanged at 78.8 years, but increased for non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics to 75.2 years and 81.8 years, respectively (). Life expectancy at birth has remained higher among Hispanics than among non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks, and over the past few years that gap has widened. The difference in life expectancy between non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks has narrowed from a difference of 4.1 years to 3.6 years between 2010 and 2014 (). The flattening out of life expectancy in non-Hispanic whites in recent years has raised concerns. A recent review on changes in U.S. mortality rates points to a substantial rise in mortality rates for non-Hispanic whites aged 45-54 due to drug and alcohol poisoning, suicide, and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis ().

Because Americans are living longer and there is slower growth in younger age groups, the proportion of deaths in persons over 65 has increased compared to those in younger age groups since 1980. In 2014, more than 73% of total deaths in the United States were in persons 65 years and older, compared to 67.4% in 1980 (). Although the proportion of deaths from diseases of the heart in persons 65 years and older fell from 44.4% in 1980 to 25.5% of all deaths in 2014, this cause remained the leading cause of death in persons 65 years and older (). The proportion of deaths due to cancer, the second leading cause of death, rose from 19.3% in 1980 to 20.8% in 2014 (). Stroke fell from the third to the fourth leading cause of death between 1980 and 2014 (). The causes of death remained the same for persons over 65 years, as for all ages, except for suicide, which was replaced by septicemia as the 10th leading cause of death for persons over 65 years in 2014 ().

Monitoring the Health System’s Organization, Provision of Care, and Performance

The U.S. health care system is one of the largest and most complicated health care delivery structures in the world. It is financed through such publicly funded programs as Medicare, Medicaid, the Indian Health Service, and the military, and through private individual and employer-based insurance coverage. Private employer-based insurance coverage has the largest share of health insurance coverage in the health care system in the United States.

The federal government, under the auspices of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and various agencies such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and the Indian Health Service (IHS), provide guidance or oversee aspects of various parts of the health care system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts and supports health promotion, prevention, and preparedness activities in the United States, with the goal of improving overall public health in coordination with the 50 states and territories. In turn, states and localities oversee health insurance coverage and the provision and delivery of care through legislative statutes and regulations, often enacted in agreement with national standards. In addition, as part of its public health function to protect the population from disease, the federal government monitors the emergence of diseases and illnesses through a network of sentinel sites and state departments of health, in every state and territory, that identify at-risk groups, monitor trends, and control the spread of these diseases.

The United States does not have an all-encompassing health insurance plan. Prior to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), persons who did not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare through age, disability, or income, or who were not covered under the Indian Health Service or military health service, chose coverage either through an employer-based insurance or through the individual market, mostly through a managed care organization. Those who could not afford health insurance or did not qualify for programs like Medicaid or Medicare ultimately dropped into the ranks of the uninsured.

The United States is one of two member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that has not achieved universal health coverage (). Medicare is a federal health insurance program for individuals 65 or older, certain younger people with disabilities, and other specific groups such as those with end-stage renal disease; it is funded in part through payroll taxes. Medicaid is a means-tested federal and state government health insurance program largely paid through state and federal taxes. The states determine coverage within federal guidelines and negotiate eligibility with private and public health care providers.

Reforms and the Financing of U.S. Health Care

Over the past few decades the increasing number of persons without health insurance, along with rising health care costs, led to calls for reform. Often, these reforms addressed specific inadequacies or inequities, but did little to overhaul the system. For example, in some states, Medicaid—a government-run program for the poor—was expanded to cover children in those families who did not qualify for Medicaid based on income but were determined to be in need (by the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)). Medicare, too, was expanded to cover rising out-of-pocket expenditures for prescriptions.

The PPACA not only sought to contain rising cost structures and expand insurance coverage to the uninsured through Affordable Insurance Exchanges and expanded Medicaid eligibility, it also guaranteed that people could not be denied coverage due to a preexisting condition, ended lifetime and annual limits on coverage for most benefits, required minimum standards for health insurance policies or plans, and required everyone to have insurance, have an exemption, or pay a penalty (the “individual mandate”). As of 2016, 32 states and the District of Columbia had expanded Medicaid, with 19 states choosing not to expand it.

With the implementation of PPACA coverage in 2014, the number of uninsured individuals dropped to 10.5% in 2015, compared with 18.2% in 2010 (). Non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, and Asians experienced larger gains in coverage than did non-Hispanic whites (), as did the “poor” and “near poor” (). Coverage increased at a faster rate in states that expanded Medicaid (). As of this writing, 8-12 million Americans who have off-exchange health insurance are now protected against discrimination based on preexisting conditions or from terminating policies once persons become ill ().

Health Expenditures

In 2015, the U.S. spent over US$ 3.2 trillion dollars on health care, an increase from US$ 2.6 trillion in 2010 (). To put this in perspective, the country’s health care expenditure is greater than the GDP of most nations in the world (). Spending on health care as a share of GDP reached 17.8%, and nearly US$ 10,000 per person (). Medicare spending increased 4.5% to US$ 646.2 billion or 20% of total health expenditures, and Medicaid grew by 9.7%, to US$ 545.1 billion or 17% of health care expenditures (). Private health insurance grew 7.2% to US$ 1,072.1 billion, or 33% of total health expenditures (). Out-of-pocket spending rose 2.6%, to US$ 338.1 billion or 11% of total health expenditure ().

In 2015, hospital care accounted for a 32% share of health care spending, having increased by 5.6% to US$ 1,036.1 trillion compared to the 2014 figure of 4.6% (). Hospital services reported a faster growth in Medicaid and private health insurance spending and slower growth in Medicare spending (). Spending on physicians and clinical services increased 6.3% to US$ 634.9 billion, or 20% of health care expenditures (). Growth in prescription drug spending, while slowing in 2015, outpaced all other service categories that year, accounting for 10% percent of health care expenditures (). Residential and personal-care services spending grew 7.8% to US$ 163.3 billion, or 5% of health care spending. Medicaid spending accounted for 57% of all spending for residential and personal-care services ().

The rapid surge in prescription drug costs since 2014 has seriously affected the ability to afford medications for many individuals, and will prove to be a major health care priority for the nation (). Prescription drug spending has continued to climb since the late 1990s, spiking from US$ 192.8 billion to US$ 297.7 billion in 2014 (). This spending category has grown 4.4% annually on average from 2004 to 2014; it increased 12.2% from 2013 to 2014, and 9.0%, to $324.6 billion, in 2015. Medicare was the second largest funding source for prescription drug spending in 2014 ().

Health Care Utilization

Visits to both emergency rooms or hospitals declined in the U.S. between 2000 and 2014 (). From 2000 to 2014, emergency department visits declined for those under 18 years old, 18-44-year-olds, 45-64-year-olds, and those older than 65 years by 17.7%, 10.2%, 0.6%, and 10.5%, respectively (). From 2000 to 2014, hospitalizations (one or more hospital stays) declined for 18-44-year-olds, 45-64-year olds, and those older than 65 years by 28.6%, 11.9%, and 15.9%, respectively (). The number of health care visits (including visits to doctor offices, emergency departments, and home visits) varied by age group (). The percentage of persons who had no health care visits in the past year remained relatively unchanged, from 15.6% in 2010 to 15.3% in 2014 (). Those with one to three health care visits in the past year rose 11.0% from 2010 to 2014, yet declined more than 12% for those with four or more visits in the year prior to the survey (). In 2014, nearly 63% of persons under 18 years old were likely to have a greater percentage of one-to-three visits in the past year, compared to 48.7% of those aged 18–44 years, 46.8 % of those aged 45–64 years, and 36.9% for those 65 years and older (). However, 57% of persons older than 65 years were more likely to have had four or more health care visits in the past year than did those 18-44-year-olds (28.1%) and 44-64-year-olds (38.2%) ().

Prospects

Recent important health reforms—such as the expansion of Medicaid coverage and the protection of those with preexisting conditions—have clearly helped to improve many key aspects of health care. That said, unsolved issues such as the rising cost of insurance premiums and the attrition of insurance providers from local markets in many states threaten adequate insurance coverage for the population. Further, while efforts to lessen the demand for and utilization of health care services as a way to control costs have been effective, the rise in drug costs and other health care expenditures are likely to remain in the nation’s agenda. As of this writing, the final disposition of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is uncertain after two Congressional attempts to revamp the legislation. Clearly, the nation’s citizens and government will continue to work towards a final solution that will benefit all.

The poor state of the nation’s physical infrastructure, such as transport, water supply, and treatment, and the cleanup of hazardous and toxic waste sites will be costly to repair and maintain. The drought in California, hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and the Flint water crisis highlight the potential effects that natural disasters/phenomena and man-made crises can have on the health and well-being of a nation when the physical and infrastructure is not repaired. The decline in Americans’ attitudes toward the benefits of vaccines and the increased skepticism toward science, benefits of public expenditures on health, and medicine will have deleterious effects on promoting health and social supports for vulnerable and aging populations.

The rise in opioid-related deaths and maternal mortality; the constant threat of emerging diseases such as Zika and chikungunya, and the growth in excess deaths, the higher mortality rates of middle-aged whites, and deteriorating gap in well-being and health outcomes between rural and urban residents require the political and social will to strengthen the health care delivery system; to expand and increase the integration of primary, specialty, and substance abuse services; and to develop innovative, and locally based initiatives and services that address those issues that affect rural and urban areas, and specific regions.

References

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33. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). Health, United States, 2015, with special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Table 20: Leading causes of death and numbers of deaths, by age: 1980 and 2014. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf.

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35. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Key facts about the uninsured population [Internet]. Menlo Park, CA: KFF; 2016. Available from: http://www.kff.org/uninsured/fact-sheet/key-facts-about-the-uninsured-population/.

36. Martinez M, Zammitti EP, Cohen RA. Health insurance coverage: early release of estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, January–September 2016. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2017. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/insur201702.pdf.

37. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). Health, United States, 2015, with special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Table 94: National health expenditures, average annual percent change, and percent distribution, by type of expenditure, selected years 1960–2014. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf.

38. Martin AB, Hartman M, Washington B, Catlin A; National Health Expenditure Accounts Team. National health spending: faster growth in 2015 as coverage expands and utilization increases. Health Affairs 2017;36(1):166–176. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2016.1330.

39. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (United States). National health expenditure data: NHE fact sheet 2015 (historical NHE, 2015) [Internet]. Baltimore, MD: CMS; 2017. Available from: https://www.cms.gov/research-statistics-data-and-systems/statistics-trends-and-reports/nationalhealthexpenddata/nhe-fact-sheet.html.

40. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). “Health, United States” Spotlight: health care expenditures & payers. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus_spotlight_sept16.pdf.

41. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). Health, United States, 2015, with special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Table 73: Emergency department visits within the past 12 months among children under age 18, by selected characteristics, selected years 1997–2014. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf.

42. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). Health, United States, 2015, with special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Table 74: Emergency department visits within the past 12 months among adults aged 18 and over, by selected characteristics, selected years 1997–2014. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf.

43. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). Health, United States, 2015, with special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Table 81: Persons with hospital stays in the past year, by selected characteristics, selected years 1997–2014. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf.

44. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). Health, United States, 2015, with special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Table 65: Health care visits to doctor offices, emergency departments, and home visits within the past 12 months, by selected characteristics, selected years 1997–2014. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf.

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46. Hamilton BE, Martin JA, Osterman MJK, Curtin SC. Births: preliminary data for 2014. National Vital Statistics Reports 2015;64(6):1–19. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_06.pdf.

47. Hamilton BE, Kirmeyer SE. Trends and variations in reproduction and intrinsic rates: United States, 1990–2014. National Vital Statistics Reports 2017;66(2):1–14. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr66/nvsr66_02.pdf.

48. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (United States). Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System: trends in pregnancy-related deaths [Internet]. Atlanta: CDC/NCCDPH; 2017. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pmss.html.

49. Save the Children. State of the World’s Mothers Report 2015: the urban disadvantage. Fairfield, CT: SCF; 2015. Available from: https://selectra.co.uk/sites/default/files/pdf/SOWM_EXECUTIVE%20SUMMARY.PDF.

50. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). Health, United States, 2015, with special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Table 10: Infant, neonatal, postneonatal, fetal, and perinatal mortality rates, by detailed race and Hispanic origin of mother, selected years 1983–2013. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf.

51. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). Health, United States, 2015, with special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Table 11: Infant mortality rates, by race: selected years 1950–2014. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf.

52. Bloom B, Jones LI, Freeman G. Summary health statistics tables for U.S. children: National Health Interview Survey, 2012. Vital and Health Statistics 10 2013;(258):1–81. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_10/sr10_258.pdf.

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54. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). Health, United States, 2015, with special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Table 52: Health risk behaviors among students in
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57. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). Health, United States, 2015, with special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Table 17: Age-adjusted death rates for selected causes of death, by sex, race, and Hispanic origin: United States, selected years 1950–2014. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf.

58. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). Health, United States, 2015, with special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Table 19: Leading causes of death and numbers of deaths, by sex, race, and Hispanic origin, 1980 and 2014. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf.

59. Kochanek KD, Murphy SL, Xu J, Tejada-Vera B. Deaths: final data for 2014. National Vital Statistics Reports 2016;65(4):1–122. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr65/nvsr65_04.pdf.

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62. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). Health, United States, 2015, with special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Table 69: Pneumococcal vaccination among adults aged 18 and over, by selected characteristics: United States, selected years 1989–2014. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf.

63. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). Health, United States, 2015, with special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Table 38, Respondent-reported prevalence of heart disease, cancer, and stroke among adults aged 18 and over, by selected characteristics: United States, average annual, selected years 1997–1998 through 2013–2014. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf.

64. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). FastStats. Diseases and conditions—respiratory and allergies, asthma [Internet]. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/asthma.htm.

65. National Center for Health Statistics (United States). FastStats. Diseases and conditions—chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) [Internet]. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2016. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/copd.htm.

66. Claxton G, Cox C, Damico A, Levitt L, Pollitz K. Issue Brief: pre-existing conditions and medical underwriting in the individual insurance market prior to the ACA [Internet]. Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation; 2016. Available from: http://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/pre-existing-conditions-and-medical-underwriting-in-the-individual-insurance-market-prior-to-the-aca/.

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Reference/Note:

1. Chronic conditions include one or more of the following: hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, hepatitis, weak or failing kidneys, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma.

2. “Below 100% of poverty” means under the federal poverty level (FPL) defined by the U.S. government. In 2015, the FPL was $11,770 for an individual and $24,250 for a family of 4. A person or family “below 100% of poverty” is extremely poor by U.S. standards.

3. In 2015, being “above 400% of poverty” means a salary of $47,080 for an individual (400% above the FPL of $11,770) and a salary of $97,000 for a family of four (400% above the FPL of $24,250).

4. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overweight is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 25.0 to 29.9 and obese is defined as having a BMI of 30 or higher.

5. A basic EHR system consists of electronic clinical information (such as patient demographics, problem lists, medication lists, and discharge summaries), computerized provider order entry for medications, and a results management capability to review lab, radiology, and diagnostic test results.

6. Replacement is the level at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next; 2,100 births per 1,000 women is considered replacement level ().

7. A pregnancy-related death is defined as the death of a woman while pregnant or within one year of pregnancy termination—regardless of the duration or site of the pregnancy—from any cause related to the pregnancy or its management (does not include accidental/incidental causes such as injury) (). Maternal mortality is defined just for maternal deaths within 42 days of pregnancy termination.

8. Accidental poisoning includes drug overdoses/poisoning.

9. Below 100% of poverty is a guide to a family’s income that falls under the threshold of poverty. In 2015, the poverty level for 1 person is $11,770 and for a family of 4 it is $24,250. A person or family below 100% of poverty of $11,770 and $24,250, respectively are extremely poor by US standards. In 2015, a person 100-199% of poverty has an income between $11,770 and $23,540 and a family of four between $24,250 and $48,500.

10. Serious mental illness is defined as having a diagnosable mental health, behavioral, or emotional disorder, other than a substance use disorder, that meets DSM-IV criteria and resulted in serious functional impairment.

11. Serious mental illness is defined as having a diagnosable mental health, behavioral, or emotional disorder, other than a substance use disorder, that meets DSM-IV criteria and resulted in serious functional impairment.

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