We Spend Twice that of Germany
and Yet They Outlive us by 2.3 Years
The Wall Street Journal
By Mark Whitehouse
April 9, 2011
141%: How much more the U.S. spends on health care, per person, than the average OECD nation
At a time when politicians in Washington are battling over — among other things — the future of the U.S. health-care system, it’s instructive to see just how well that system operates. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we’re doing a terrible job.
A new report finds that the U.S. spends far more on health care than any of the other 29 OECD nations, and gets less health for its money. Annual public and private health-care spending in the U.S. stands at $7,538 per person, 2.41 times the OECD average and 51% more than the second-biggest spender, Norway. Meanwhile, average U.S. life expectancy is 77.9 years, less than the OECD average of 79.4.
Improving the health-care system could go a long way toward fixing the U.S. government’s finances. The OECD estimates that if the U.S. reached the efficiency level of the best-performing countries, the government could save the equivalent of 2.7% of economic output every year. That’s enough to solve about a third of the country’s budget-deficit problem.
The hard part is figuring out how to make the system work better. Here, the report attempts to derive some guidance from the experience of the most successful countries.
Interestingly, the type of system doesn’t seem to matter much. Countries with state-run systems do about as well on average as countries with private systems. Among the things that do matter: Consumers need to have some skin in the game, through mechanisms such as co-payments; care needs to be well-coordinated among doctors’ offices, hospitals and nursing homes; providers of care need incentives to do a better job, such as pay for performance; and the price and quality of services should be better monitored and easier to see.
Many of those features are included in the health-care law the U.S. passed last year, though much has yet to be implemented. Improvements are undoubtedly possible. Whatever we decide to do, it’s time we did something. More articles by Mark Whitehouse