How much is good health care worth to you? $8,233 per year? That’s how much the U.S. spends per person.
That figure is more than two-and-a-half times more than most developed nations in the world, including relatively rich European countries like France, Sweden and the United Kingdom. On a more global scale, it means U.S. health care costs now eat up 17.6 percent of GDP....
Whether measured relative to its population or its economy, the United States spends by far the most in the world on health care.
The U.S. spent $8,233 on health per person in 2010. Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland are the next highest spenders, but in the same year, they all spent at least $3,000 less per person. The average spending on health care among the other 33 developed OECD countries was $3,268 per person.
That statistic brings up the much-beloved free market criteria of return on investment (ROI), at which the US performs abysmally according to many studies when it comes to health.
An NPR article in 2013 is entitled, "US Ranks Below 16 Other Rich Countries In Health Report":
It's no news that the U.S. has lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality than most high-income countries. But a ... new report says Americans are actually less healthy across their entire life spans than citizens of 16 other wealthy nations.
And the gap is steadily widening.
"What struck us — and it was quite sobering — was the recurring trend in which the U.S. seems to be slipping behind other high-income countries," the lead author of the report, Dr. Steven Woolf, tells Shots.
He says Americans of all ages up to 75 have shorter lives and more illness and injury.
It should be noted that in this report, the United States is being compared to other "developed" nations. A recent United Nations Population Divison report ranked the US 40th in life expectancy among all nations in 2010.
In short, the US spends the most on medical care with poor life expectancy results, even including many nations that are not considered wealthy.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) may have made insurance coverage more inclusive, but it keeps the insurance companies in charge of calling the shots (for those without Medicare, Veterans Care or Medicaid) and adding to the cost of health care through administrative costs and profit.
According to the advocacy organization Public Citizen, a number of experts from single-payer nations recently testified at a Senate sub-committee hearing chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a leading supporter of Medicare for all. The spokespersons from Canada and Denmark offered compelling reasons why the US should move from a private-insurance system to a government administered program (such as, well, Medicare):
For example, the Canadian witness, Dr. Danielle Martin, vice president of medical affairs and health system solutions at Women’s College Hospital, compared access to care, quality of care and costs in the U.S. and Canadian systems, and found all were superior in Canada. Martin compared the American average for administrative costs of 31 percent to the 1.3 percent administrative costs paid by Canada (not counting costs for private supplemental plans available to Canadians.) Professor Jakob Kjellberg from the Danish Institute for Local and Regional Government Research, who served as the Danish expert witness, said his country’s administrative costs are only 4.3 percent of total health care spending.
In short, as has been argued before, private health insurance (which we still obviously have under the ACA) increases the cost of medical care, with nearly a third of that cost eaten up by private insurance non-health related revenue. To repeat the testimony cited above: 31 percent of US health insurance costs goes to insurers, while in Canada only 1.3 percent of medical costs are administrative.
As far as access to care, to the contrary of what Sarah Palin infamously asserted -- that government care would lead to death panels -- it is private insurance companies who employ staff to decide whether medical care -- sometimes a matter of life or death with chronic illnesses and rare diseases -- should be provided. Medicare does not employ "profit-increasers" to deny care.
Indeed, a spokesperson for Public Citizen pointedly summarized the hearing:
Today’s panel was a good first step that will hopefully inspire a real discussion about the benefits of single-payer health care in the United States, said Susan Harley, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. A single-payer, or Medicare-for-all, system would eliminate health insurance companies from the equation, ensuring that only patients and their doctors make decisions about care options.
Although the ACA is to be praised for providing many uninsured people an opportunity to sleep with some peace of mind, it is still a rickety system constructed to ensure the political support of medical insurance companies.
US politicians, including President Obama, regularly boast about the US being the leader of the world in progress and a model for other nations.
Having the most expensive healthcare system, with the worst general outcome ranking for developed nations, looks like the US is a wobbly caboose not a powerful engine.
Medicare for all could solve that problem when it comes to cost-effectively fostering a healthy national population.
Afternote: The Daily Show, as usual, brought home the reality of the dysfunctional national US health care system in this recent segment. Click here.
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