03/12/2014 - Today, Europeans enjoy a much longer life expectancy than the previous generation, but large inequalities in health remain across and within countries. These are largely due to disparities in access to and quality of care, as well as individual lifestyles and behaviours, according to a new joint OECD/European Commission report.
Health at a Glance: Europe 2014 shows that life expectancy in EU member states has increased by more than five years on average since 1990. But the gap between those countries with the highest life expectancies (Spain, Italy and France) and those with the lowest (Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania) remains around eight years.
Within all EU countries, highly educated people are likely to live several years longer and in better health than those with low level of education. This is particularly the case in Central and Eastern Europe.
This makes it all the more important that all European countries put in place effective public health strategies to prevent diseases and contribute to the reduction in health inequalities.
Inequalities in access to health care contribute to inequalities in health
In most EU countries, universal health coverage has ensured continued access to health care during the recent economic crisis. But in Bulgaria and Greece, many people lost their insurance coverage, at least temporarily. Several countries have seen their coverage for certain health services and goods reduced, and out-of-pocket payments by patients have risen. The new OECD/EC report shows that, on average across EU countries, the proportion of low-income people reporting some unmet needs for medical care and dental care is two-times greater than among the population as a whole, and four-times greater than for high-income groups. Such unmet care needs may have long-term health and economic consequences.
Quality of care continues to improve, but there remain large gaps
Quality of care has generally continued to improve in recent years in most European countries, despite the crisis. For example, mortality rates for people suffering from a heart attack have decreased by 40% and strokes by 20%, on average across EU countries over the past decade. But large gaps remain in the chances of surviving these life-threatening diseases. For example, a person admitted to a hospital for a heart attack is twice more likely to die 30 days after the hospital admission in Hungary and Latvia than in Denmark and Sweden. Survival from different types of cancer also varies substantially across EU countries. Efforts are needed to improve the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other life-threatening diseases in countries that are lagging behind.
Key other main findings of Health at a Glance: Europe 2014 include:
More information on Health at a Glance: Europe 2014 and country-specific notes for France (in French), Germany (in English and in German), Ireland, Italy (in English and in Italian), Norway, Poland (in English and in Polish) and the United Kingdom are available at: http://www.oecd.org/health/health-at-a-glance-europe-23056088.htm.
Journalists can download the report from the OECD’s protected site or contact the OECD Media Division (tel. + 33 1 45 24 97 00).
Note: the hashtag for Health at a Glance is #OECDhealth.