Just a morning’s boat ride from the tip of Florida is a place where medical costs are low and doctors plentiful. It’s Cuba, and Stanford University physician Paul Drain says it’s time for the United States to pay attention to our neighbor’s shoestring success.

Despite a 50-year trade embargo by the United States and a post-Soviet collapse in international support, the impoverished nation has developed a world-class health care system. Average life expectancy is 77.5 years, compared to 78.1 years in the United States, and infant and child mortality rates match or beat our own. There’s one doctor for every 170 people, more than twice the per-capita U.S. average.

Not everything is perfect in Cuba. There are shortages of medicines, and the best care is reserved for elites. But it’s still a powerful feat. “In Cuba, a little over $300 per person is spent on health care each year. In the U.S., we’re spending over $7,000 per person,” said Drain, co-author of Caring for the World and an essay published April 29 in Science. “They’re able to achieve great health outcomes on a modest budget.”

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