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Conversation on Health Care: How America Truly Stacks Up

by Rachael Murphey, published

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, along with additional studies have compared the health care coverage options and outcomes of policies in 13 of the world's highest-income countries.

These included the United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Japan, Germany, France, Denmark, Canada and Australia.

These studies were conducted prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

According to the studies, medical costs were significantly higher in the United States than in every other included country. Factors influencing costs relied heavily on which technology was used, and prices of individual procedures, services, and medications.

The frequency of visits and admissions to hospitals had a smaller influence on accrued costs. If a person were to seek treatment for scars and lacerations, they would almost certainly pay more in the United States than in nearly every other developed nation in the study.

Even though Americans spent more on health care, they still had slightly shorter life-expectancy, more chronic illnesses and conditions, and poorer health overall.

It should also be noted that the United States was the only country included in the study that does not provide Universal Healthcare for its citizens.

When looked at in more detail, we see that Americans with health insurance receive comparable health care outcomes to people in other developed nations, but uncovered Americans drag down the averages.

A notable decrease in US cancer deaths is counter-balanced by an increase in heart disease. More than a third of the US population was reported as obese, which is roughly 15% higher than the second-highest obesity rate of surveyed countries.

For some, health care rates are debilitatingly high, which exacerbates a citizen's medical ailment, resulting in the need for even more costly procedures and treatments.

The news isn’t all bad, however.

Despite our high-carb diet contributing so much to obesity and heart disease, Americans smoke less, consume less alcohol, have better access to cancer screening and treatment, and lower blood pressure.

It seems that lowering the consumption of carbohydrates in our diet will mostly correct the issue of preexisting conditions incident to obesity and poor cardiovascular health.

Infant mortality rates in America are some of the lowest rates on the planet. Underweight infant births are also incredibly low.

However, because of a high rate of car accidents compared to the rest of the developed world, overall life expectancy is slightly lower than other developed nations, despite superior neonatal care.

One lesser-known advantage of the American health care system is the relatively short wait time. When compared with Canadian health care, similar treatments cost less in Canada, but you may not be able to get in to see a doctor in a reasonable amount of time – even for vital, life-saving care.

This corresponds to a basic economic principle: when the price of a scarce good is lower than its equilibrium point, there will be shortages.

Wait times and overall costs are even lower for less-regulated procedures that are not covered by cost-redistributing insurance plans – procedures like LASIK and cosmetic procedures such as scar reduction.

American health care is a mixed bag. Access to high-quality care with good outcomes is spectacular, but expensive. The social cost of treating the uninsured is extremely high, and outcomes for that demographic are unconscionably poor.

Poor health habits are causing prices to rise and outcomes to fall. Individual autonomy in health care decisions is unparalleled, which is leading to higher personal spending to achieve desired health outcomes.

At a time when massive upheavals in the health care system are being considered, it is important to remember George Martin’s Iron Triangle: Quality, Affordability, or Universality – you can only have two.

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