This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Preface



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The High Cost of Health Care


As noted earlier, the United States spends much more money per capita on health care than any other industrial nation. The US per capita health expenditure was $7,960 in 2009, the latest year for which data were available at the time of this writing. This figure was about 50 percent higher than that for the next two highest-spending countries, Norway and Switzerland; 80 percent higher than Canada’s expenditure; twice as high as Frances’s expenditure; and 2.3 times higher than the United Kingdom’s expenditure (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2011). [5] The huge expenditure by the United States might be justified if the quality of health and of health care in this nation outranked that in its peer nations. As we have seen, however, the United States lags behind many of its peer nations in several indicators of health and health care quality. If the United States spends far more than its peer nations on health care yet still lags behind them in many indicators, an inescapable conclusion is that the United States is spending much more than it should be spending.

Why is US spending on health care so high? Although this is a complex issue, two reasons stand out (Boffey, 2012). [6] First, administrative costs for health care in the United States are the highest in the industrial world. Because so much of US health insurance is private, billing and record-keeping tasks are immense, and “hordes of clerks and accountants [are] needed to deal with insurance paperwork,” according to one observer (Boffey, 2012, p. SR12). [7] Billing and other administrative tasks cost about $360 billion annually, or 14 percent of all US health-care costs (Emanuel, 2011). [8] These tasks are unnecessarily cumbersome and fail to take advantage of electronic technologies that would make them much more efficient.

Second, the United States relies on a fee for service model for private insurance. Under this model, physicians, hospitals, and health care professionals and business are relatively free to charge whatever they want for their services. In the other industrial nations, government regulations keep prices lower. This basic difference between the United States and its peer nations helps explain why the cost of health care services in the United States is so much higher than in its peer nations. Simply put, US physicians and hospitals charge much more for their services than do their counterparts in other industrial nations (Klein, 2012). [9] And because physicians are paid for every service they perform, they have an incentive to perform more diagnostic tests and other procedures than necessary. As one economic writer recently said, “The more they do, the more they earn” (Samuelson, 2011). [10]

A few examples illustrate the higher cost of medical procedures in the United States compared to other nations. To keep things simple, we will compare the United States with just Canada (see ). The average US appendectomy costs $13,123, compared to $3,810 in Canada; the average US hip replacement costs $34,354, compared to $10,753 in Canada; the average US normal childbirth costs $8,435, compared to $2,667 in Canada; and the average US bypass surgery costs $59,770, compared to $22,212 in Canada. The costs of diagnostic tests also differ dramatically between the two nations. For example, a head CT scan costs an average of $464 in the United States, compared to only $65 in Canada, and an MRI scan costs and average of $1,009 in the United States, compared to only $304 in Canada (International Federation of Health Plans, 2010). [11]



Figure 13.8 Average Cost of Selected Medical Procedures and Services

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig13_008.jpg

Source: Boffey, P. M. (2012, January 22). The money traps in US health care.New York Times, p. SR12.

Managed Care and HMOs


To many critics, a disturbing development in the US health-care system has been the establishment of health maintenance organizations, or HMOs, which typically enroll their subscribers through their workplaces. HMOs are prepaid health plans with designated providers, meaning that patients must visit a physician employed by the HMO or included on the HMO’s approved list of physicians. If their physician is not approved by the HMO, they have to either see an approved physician or see their own without insurance coverage. Popular with employers because they are less expensive than traditional private insurance, HMOs have grown rapidly in the last three decades and now enroll more than 70 million Americans (see ).

Figure 13.9 Growth of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), 1980–2007 (Millions of Enrollees)

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig13_009.jpg

Source: Data from US Census Bureau. (2012). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2012. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab.

Although HMOs have become popular, their managed care is also very controversial for at least two reasons (Kronick, 2009). [12] The first is the HMOs’ restrictions just noted on the choice of physicians and other health-care providers. Families who have long seen a family physician but whose employer now enrolls them in an HMO sometimes find they have to see another physician or risk going without coverage. In some HMOs, patients have no guarantee that they can see the same physician at every visit. Instead, they see whichever physician is assigned to them at each visit. Critics of HMOs argue that this practice prevents physicians and patients from getting to know each other, reduces patients’ trust in their physician, and may for these reasons impair patient health.



The second reason for the managed-care controversy is perhaps more important. HMOs often restrict the types of medical exams and procedures patients may undergo, a problem called denial of care, and limit their choice of prescription drugs to those approved by the HMO, even if their physicians think that another, typically more expensive drug would be more effective. HMOs claim that these restrictions are necessary to keep medical costs down and do not harm patients.

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