At our favorite health care blog, Managed Care Matters, Joe Paduda did an excellent job with the most recent Health Wonk Review; be sure to stop by and check it out. One of my favorite posts was a short and simple one from Healthcare Technology News. The article includes graphs of average costs for both a hospital stay and a physician office visit in several countries around the world, including mostly highly-developed countries. The bar representing the US costs towers like a skyscraper over those of the other countries.
If our results were stellar and the US were ranked above all those other countries in terms of the overall health of our citizens, the cost could perhaps be justified. But that is not the case. Our outcomes are worse than many of the countries that spend a fraction of what we do on healthcare.
Critics of other nations’ healthcare systems point to the fact that outside the US there are often waiting lists to see specialists for non-life-threatening conditions, and label this as “rationing” (a word often used to invoke fear and resistance). But in our own system, a lack of health insurance can present just as much of a barrier to care as an official waiting list.
It’s not realistic to think that we can offer comprehensive health insurance to all Americans, provide on-demand healthcare to everyone with no wait times (regardless of the severity of the condition needing treatment), and bring our costs into line with the rest of the world. There has to be some level of compromise. But is having to wait to see a specialist for a non-emergency situation really that much of a drawback, when we consider that this sort of “rationing” might be what we need to bring our healthcare costs down to a reasonable level (and thus make healthcare more available to more Americans)? Maybe we don’t need MRI machines to be as conveniently-located as ATMs… Our current costs (and the rate at which they are increasing) aren’t really sustainable long-term, and the Healthcare Technology News article is a good reminder of how we stack up against the rest of the world.