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Disability in the USA: a comparative perspective

In our January 2 post, we wrote about how the definition of disability has become broader for Social Security disability purposes. The aging of the U.S. population has also contributed to a record number of people receiving Social Security disability insurance or Supplemental Security Income.

But aging baby boomers and a broader legal definition of disability are not the only factors pushing Social Security disability applications up. A recent national report on the nation's overhaul health painted a daunting picture of how poorly the U.S. ranks compared to the rest of the developed world in basic measures of public health.

The report was a collaborative effort of two respected organizations, the National Research Council (NRC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The findings showed that the U.S. ranks last or nearly last among developed countries in a wide range of measures of health. Not surprisingly, then, the U.S. has the highest rate of disability among developed countries.

Many of the other measures studied in the survey bear causal connections to disability. For example, the U.S. ranks last among developed nations in such key measures as heart disease, obesity, chronic lung disease and injuries. Any one of those things, of course, can result in impairments that prevent someone from working and lead to a need for disability benefits.

The NRC/IOM report that examines these measures states the problem clearly. It is called "U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health."

The report was not all doom and gloom, however. It also examined ways in which the U.S. can transform its healthcare system to do a much better job at preventing disease and promoting health. A focus on prevention would, in sure, surely bring disability rates down.

Source: "The U.S. Health Disadvantage: A Crisis that We Must Address Together Today," Becker's Hospital Review, Claire Pomeroy, 1-22-13

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