Healthcare costs are unsustainable

SUMMARY: (Axios) The U.S. spent $3.8 trillion on health care last year, accounting for about 18% of the entire American economy, according to new federal data. The U.S. has by far the most expensive health care system in the world, and every year it eats up a little more — from the federal government, states, employers, and individuals. This is unsustainable.

In Gallup’s 2019 survey of potentially worrisome issues among Americans, healthcare topped the list for the fifth straight year. Some 55 percent worry “a great deal” and a further 25 percent “a fair amount” about its availability and affordability, the survey found.

The health insurance, PBM’s, and big pharma didn’t accumulate their massive wealth by running deficits. It is a business designed to turn a profit and please shareholders and to that end, they have been very successful.

Most other developed countries control costs, in part, by having the government play a stronger role in negotiating prices for healthcare. Their healthcare systems don’t require the high administrative costs that drive up pricing in the U.S.

A record 25% of Americans say they or a family member put off treatment for a serious medical condition in the past year because of the cost, up from 19% a year ago and the highest in Gallup’s trend. Another 8% said they or a family member put off treatment for a less serious condition, bringing the total percentage of households delaying care due to costs to 33%, tying the high from 2014.

A study, published in The American Journal of Medicine, discovered that 42 percent of cancer patients deplete their life savings during the first two years of treatment. There’s good reason the term “financial toxicity” is in the name of this report.

What’s hard to understand is why the federal government doesn’t negotiate drug prices directly with drug companies in hell. It’s long overdue and needs to happen NOW despite lobbying that buys politicians. But this is only a first step.

The other issue is that big hospital systems are buying smaller ones, thus obtaining a monopoly and raising prices. As 60 Minutes reported last weekend, one big chain, Sutter, has led to the most expensive childbirth in the U.S. In addition, hospital care accounts for 33% of the nation’s healthcare costs. Between 2007 and 2014, prices for inpatient and outpatient hospital care rose much faster than physician prices, according to a 2019 study in Health Affairs. U.S. prices for surgical procedures in hospitals greatly exceed those of other countries.

U.S. Healthcare Practices Defensive Medicine

Both physicians and hospitals have an interest in preventing lawsuits, so “just in case” tests and scans may be ordered. And these tests can be costly!

While a CT scan costs just $97 in Canada and $500 in Australia, the average cost is $896 in the U.S. A typical MRI scan costs $1,420 in the United States, but around $450 in Britain. Researchers have concluded that it’s not the sheer number of tests and procedures but their high price that explains why it’s so expensive to be sick in the U.S.

I understand that tackling healthcare is going to be a hot political issue but we can’t keep on keeping on. The fact is that healthcare is too damn profitable and every company wants a huge piece.

Originally published at on December 17, 2020.



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