Sunday, October 30, 2011

American health care: Spending more for less

Posted By on Sun, Oct 30, 2011 at 11:31 AM

I spoke yesterday of the holes in the theory, much beloved by Republican politicians, of American exceptionalism.

Is it exceptional to spend far more money than any other country on health care (35 percent more at more than $8,000 per person than the next closest country) and have less by way of good health to show for it?

This fact should be taught in kindergarten and you'd think even the densest would understand it by now. But apparently not, judging by the political discourse.

A useful reminder today in a New York Times op-ed by Ezekiel Emanuel, which included these eye-opening nuggets about our spending:

France has the fifth largest economy in the world, with a gross domestic product of nearly $2.6 trillion. The United States spends on health care alone what the 65 million people of France spend on everything: education, defense, the environment, scientific research, vacations, food, housing, cars, clothes and health care. In other words, our health care spending is the fifth largest economy in the world.

Or compare it to the second largest economy in the world, China. China’s G.D.P. is $5.9 trillion (compared to America’s $14.6 trillion). So the United States, with a population a quarter of the size of China’s, spends just on health care slightly less than half of what China spends on everything.

Results?

Almost no matter how we measure it — whether by life expectancy or by survival for specific diseases like asthma, heart disease or some cancers; by the rate of medical errors; or simply by satisfaction with health services — the United States is actually doing worse than a number of countries, like France and Germany, that spend considerably less.

Exceptional indeed.

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