Jun 022013

In a fascinating article in today’s Sunday New York Times, writer Elizabeth Rosenthal outlines in detail why we as consumers of health care here in the United States pay so much more for health care than consumers pay in other countries.

“Whether directly from their wallets or through insurance policies, Americans pay more for almost every interaction with the medical system. They are typically prescribed more expensive procedures and tests than people in other countries, no matter if those nations operate a private or national health system. A list of drug, scan and procedure prices compiled by the International Federation of Health Plans, a global network of health insurers, found that the United States came out the most costly in all 21 categories — and often by a huge margin,” she writes.

We pay about four times more for a hip replacement than patients pay in Switzerland or France and three times more for a C-section than residents of New Zealand or the UK, Rosenthal says. Citing a report from The Commonwealth Fund, she adds that a hospital stay in the United States costs about three times what it does in other, similar countries even though the length of stay is about the same.

“While the United States medical system is famous for drugs costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and heroic care at the end of life, it turns out that a more significant factor in the nation’s $2.7 trillion annual health care bill may not be the use of extraordinary services, but the high price tag of ordinary ones,” the article says.

As an example, Rosenthal explains that colonoscopies are the most expensive routine screening test for Americans, costing more than childbirth or an appendectomy in other similar countries. While many less expensive alternatives are available, Americans often are steered to choose the most costly options, as is the case with colonoscopies, she writes. Also, she adds, unlike what happens in most  industrialized nations, the United States does not regulate or intervene in medical pricing in the private market.



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