OECD: Israel Life Expectancy High, Medical Spending Low

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A new report by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development ranks Israel in ninth place among the world’s developed countries for life expectancy -- and has done that while investing relatively little in healthcare services.

Life expectancy in Israel has jumped a full 10 years over the past four decades to 81.8 years in 2011. That was well-known before the release of the OECD report, but what is new in the report are the data showing the relationship between life expectancy and spending on healthcare: Per capital spending, both government and private, in Israel is among the lowest in the Western world.

The United States, by contrast, comes out particularly poorly when life expectancy is correlated with health spending. Although per capita public health care spending in the United States is $8,508, compared with about $1,500 in Israel, the average life expectancy in America is just 78.7 years, which is not only significantly lower than in Israel but lower than the Western average of 80.1 years.

That in fact was one of the factors leading for President Barack Obama to push for expansion of medical coverage through his controversial program popularly known as Obamacare, which went into effect this year and aims to expand insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans.

The data prompt the question over whether claims that the Israeli public health system is underfunded are an exaggeration or whether they actually prove the critics right, on the grounds that there is no excess spending that can been trimmed in Israel’s health care spending.

“It’s hard to characterize the Israeli health care system as outstanding, because what you see on a graph is efficiency only in its economic sense,” said Ari Shamiss, the director of the general hospital at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.

He denied there is a relationship between healthcare spending and life expectancy, he said, citing variables such as genetics, environment and risk factors. Shamiss warned that government spending on health care had reached record levels and is thus being reined in around the world. Individually tailored treatment is currently too expensive to be rolled out on a mass scale, he said.

“Our system is the most efficient in the West, but maybe it’s already too efficient,” Shamiss suggested. “That’s reflected in the fact that overall expenditure on health compared to the outcome from the healthcare system is already too low. It’s also important to talk about quality of life. We’ve managed to extend life by another two years, but what happens during those last two years?”

One sign of underspending on medical care in Israel is that geriatric care is inadequate, Shamiss said, and Israel is not in a position, as other countries are, to cut medical spending without harming life expectancies.

“We spend 7.8% to 7.9% of our gross domestic product on health, which is much less than the average and any drop, or even standing in place, will cause a decline in the quality of medical services,” he said.

A woman undergoing a test at an HMO in Kiryat Shmona. Lesbians are more reluctant than straight women to see a doctor.Credit: Yaron Kaminski

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