Healthcare in America

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More Americans are killed by their doctors than by any medical condition except heart disease and cancer. A recent study analyzing prior data conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins estimated that more than 250,000 of our fellow citizens die each year from medical errors. Compare that to the 600,000 plus deaths from cardiovascular disease and 500,000 plus deaths from cancer. The next most prominent killer is respiratory illness at 147,000 victims each year.[1] Some 100,000 deaths are attributable to adverse drug reactions, many occurring even when no mistakes are made. Yearly hospitalizations for adverse drug reactions exceed two million.[2]

Despite the amount we spend on healthcare, Americans compare badly in life expectancy and the prevalence of chronic conditions.[3] The US is #31 in life expectancy. We rank #1 in deaths due to heart disease, #2 in Alzheimer’s dementia, and are in the top ten in stroke, lung disease, lung cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and colon cancer.[4]

Although some 20 million people have acquired insurance coverage since the Affordable Care Act (ACA, sometimes referred to as “Obamacare”) was signed into law in 2010, a large number of Americans — perhaps as many as 29 million, one in ten — remained uninsured as of May 2016.[5]

In 2015 Americans paid $1,318 out of pocket before health insurance coverage kicked in, up from $584 a decade ago. That’s on top of paying an average of $89 a month for health insurance premiums.[6] Last year, annual healthcare spending reached a new peak at $10,345 per person.[7]

We spend 17.1% of our GDP on healthcare, which is almost 50% more than France, the next highest spender and almost double what the UK spends.[8]In 1960, it was just 5%. US hospital and physician prices for procedures are highest in the world, as well. In 2013, the average price of bypass surgery was $75,345 in the US, more than $30,000 higher than in the second-highest country, Australia, where the procedure cost $42,130 in that same year.[9]

The exorbitant price Americans pay for pharmaceuticals compared to the prices for the same drugs abroad is common knowledge. US prices for the world’s 20 top-selling medicines are, on average, three times higher than in Britain, according to an analysis carried out for Reuters.[10] And the rise in cost is only accelerating. In 2010, all countries studied had lower prices than the US. In Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, prices were about 50 percent lower.[11]

Even though the US is the only major country without a publicly financed universal healthcare system, it still spends more tax dollars on healthcare than all but two other countries. Part of the reason is that prices for healthcare are so much higher in the US. By contrast, the US devotes a relatively small portion of its budget to social services, such as housing assistance, employment programs, disability benefits, and food security.[12]

The sad truth is we deliver the worst quality, least available, and most expensive healthcare in the developed world.

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