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Quality healthcare an American myth

by Alan Markow, published

It was nearly a year ago that Anthem Blue Cross of California helped enable passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (sometimes called Obamacare) when it attempted to increase insurance rates by up to 39 percent.  The outrage caused by Anthem's proposed premium increases helped push the struggling health bill over the top, establishing the first nationwide program of health care coverage, and igniting a firestorm of protest that likely gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives in 2010.

Despite the new legislation, most Californians and Americans remain concerned about their ability to cover the rising costs of medical care and medical insurance, and the risks those costs bring to our future financial stability.  At the same time, we remain concerned about protecting the vaunted American healthcare system, viewed by most citizens as the best in the world.

Well, here's a surprise.  The American healthcare system leads the seven wealthiest nations in only one category:  most costly.  In terms of overall quality, we are the bottom of the barrel.

The statistics were collected by Medical Billing and Coding -- an organization that runs a group of colleges and trade schools serving the medical industry.  They show that U.S. medical costs are vastly higher for typical procedures from a checkup (double the cost of France, Canada and the Netherlands), to a hospital visit (more than triple the cost of France), to having a baby (more than double the cost of Germany).

U.S. per capita costs for health care are nearly off the charts when compared to the other six wealthiest nations.  We average $7,300.  No other nation in the group even reaches $4,000.

The Medical Billing and Coding report goes on to counter several common myths that are used to excuse America's high health care costs:

1.  Myth:  Americans drink and smoke more than people in other countries.  Reality:  Amercans drink and smoke far less than other countries.

2.  Myth:  The American population is aging faster than other countries.  Reality:  America skews younger than European populations.

3.  Myth:  Malpractice is out of control.  Reality:  Malpractice accounts for only two percent of overall spending.

The report notes four reasons that American health care is so expensive:  lack of governmental price regulations, excessive administrative costs in part because of our complex insurance system, heavy reliance on expensive outpatient services, high pay for physicians and health care workers when compared to their worldwide counterparts.

It is easy to believe that our nation is the best at whatever it does, but the Medical Billing and Coding report puts into serious question whether there is much worth protecting about a health care system that is one of the world's most expensive and one of the least effective for the dollars spent.

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