U.S. Spends More But Gets Less Health Care, Survey Says

The United States spends double what other industrialized countries spend on health care, but Americans have more problems getting care and suffer from more medical errors, according to a new study.

  The U.S. spends twice per capita what other developed countries spend on health care, but its residents actually receive less of it, according to a survey published Thursday on the Web site of Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed journal in Washington, D.C. The study of 12,000 adults in Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the U.S. was conducted by the New York-based Commonwealth Fund, a private health-care policy foundation.

All of the countries studied, except for the U.S., have universal health-care systems. The survey found people in those nations are more likely to have a regular doctor, less likely to experience medical errors and less likely to skip medications due to cost than people in the U.S.

Changing to a universal health-care system is a controversial subject in the U.S., although people in many states, including Colorado, are trying to make that happen. A so-called “single-payer” plan was one of four proposals chosen for analysis by Colorado’s 208 Commission. That panel is a Blue Ribbon Commission created by the Colorado General Assembly in 2006 to study health-care reform and named for the legislative bill that established it. But even though modeling found the single-payer proposal to be the only option that would save money, the plan has a lot of enemies. Opponents, who often favor free-market insurance systems, denounce the single-payer proposal as “socialized medicine” or “government-run health care.” A common claim is that while people in countries with universal systems pay less for health care than Americans, they often have to wait much longer to get it. Initially, that seems to be partially supported by the survey, since adults in the U.S. and Germany reported the shortest wait times for elective surgery. But even though they had access, U.S. adults were most likely to report going without surgery because of high out-of-pocket costs. The survey also found Americans and Canadians reported the longest wait times for primary care and were thus more likely to end up in emergency rooms.

The universal health-care systems in the countries studied vary considerably and their results in the survey are mixed. But, the authors write, “the United States stands out for cost-related access barriers and less-efficient care.”

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