To the editor,
It’s not hard to find data documenting how much more we pay in the U.S. for health care every year as well as how much more compared to other industrialized countries. Over my adult life health care has grown from 5 percent of the GDP in 1960 to 18 percent. In 2017 Americans paid an average of over $13,000 for an appendectomy that cost $3,000 in the UK and just over $6,000 in New Zealand. A CT scan cost $97 in Canada, but averages $896 here.
And for years we’ve been told why our health care is so costly. Drug costs are one big factor. Research shows that we pay 2 to 4 times more for prescriptions than citizens of our peer countries. Private insurance companies in the U.S. can negotiate lower drug costs, as can our VA system, but our government via Medicare, which pays a lion’s share of drug costs, is not allowed to.
Extreme administrative costs of multiple systems are another. The maze of complex rules, deductibles, co-pays, tier levels, enrollment dates, etc. among many private and public plans adds about 8 percent to our health care costs compared to 1 percent to 3 percent for administration in other countries. Just monitoring the stacks of bills and paperwork after a hospital stay attests to this expensive morass for most of us.
Enormous costs for malpractice insurance also plague the medical profession in the U.S.. This almost forces doctors to order “just-in-case” expensive tests.
And now we’re learning how prices for medical procedures and supplies vary wildly among hospitals within a state and even cities. A new federal health care transparency law makes it possible for consumers to find out via the internet what hospitals charge for in- and out-patient care. Oswego’s hospital, for example, lists a price that is $44 less that Rochester General’s for a Level II echocardiogram without contrast, but $198 more for a similar Level III procedure. These prices aren’t so different, but lack of federal guidance allows huge price disparities in other hospitals. Even during this current pandemic crisis, for example, Coronavirus tests in one state alone – Texas – have cost anywhere from $27 to $2,315!
Health care in this country feels like the Wild West and begs for corrections. Profit seeking, unregulated health businesses leave millions without access to preventative, basic care. Now, when an unprecedented number of workers are losing their jobs in this pandemic, they often lose their health insurance too: a double whammy right when folks need support and health insurance most.
I have to wonder if our legislators realize how the costly health care in this country hurts everyone. The more we have to spend on health care, the less we have to pay for other necessities: groceries, rent/mortgages, etc. Our entire economy suffers because of unnecessarily high, unregulated, health care costs.
Geographic and racial disparities in the way COVID-19 is attacking different populations are opening our eyes to health care problems in a new way. If ever we needed our representatives in government to do what’s best for the health of this whole country, it is now. Americans need and deserve universal health care that covers everyone, like it does in virtually all other peer countries. France, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, the UK etc. — these countries all use government and private providers in different ways, from single payer systems to socialized medicine to hybrid plans. Their national models can guide us.
Of course universal health care is a complicated goal, so there’s no good excuse to delay our plight. Too many Americans are sick, scared, and angry. All stakeholders need to get together and to work now.