The ridiculous cost of staying healthy in the US

STORY BY Stephanie Wharton

Published: April 5, 2013

The debate on U.S. health care reform fired up moments after President Obama proposed the Affordable Care Act in 2009. It’s been argued, analyzed, celebrated and criticized. Regardless of one’s stance on the issues, there’s an underlying concern that the plan doesn’t necessarily address: Why is health care in the U.S. so unbelievably expensive?

Let’s forget about the costs of health insurance for a moment, and simply focus on the actual cost of health care in the U.S. 

According to an infographic published by Time in February, a CT scan in the U.S. cost an average of $510 in 2011. Meantime, that cost averaged $319 in Switzerland and $122 in Canada. Drug prices also were found to be substantially higher for Americans. For example, for the price of one Nexium pill in the U.S. a patient can get eight of them in France. Same procedure, same drug; yet such discrepancies in the costs.

Some attribute the high costs to the strict regulations and high standards for U.S. health care, while others blame it on the price of technological advances and research. Still, that doesn’t explain why hospitals charge an average of $7 for one gauze pad and more than $13,000 for a day in an intensive care unit.

To add more salt to the wound, U.S.-based physicians don’t seem to be helping with the high price tag on staying healthy. Roger Weisberg, producer and director of the 2012 PBS documentary “Money and Medicine,” explained why in an interview with PBS’ Ray Suarez.

There are a lot of drivers, Weisberg said. “But I think the biggest single driver is our fee-for-service system that rewards volume instead of value and quantity of medical services instead of quality. And as a result, we end up doing a lot of things that cause more harm than benefit for patients. 

According to Time, nonprofit hospitals are reeling in the cash. The Cleveland Clinic, for example, reported an operating profit of $572,298,875 with its CEO taking in $2,564,214 in compensation.

Bringing health insurance back into the equation, it’s debatable whether or not the Affordable Care Act will be the solution to the sky-high prices of health care in the U.S. There’s no question that millions of people will benefit from it, but that’s not to say it’s going to stop middle-class and poverty-level Americans from going bankrupt. In fact, 69% of families who filed for bankruptcy in 2009 due to medical reasons had health insurance at the time of their filing.

The fact of the matter is that wealth is irrelevant. Regardless of how much a citizen has in his or her bank account, being charged an extra $5 to be marked up with a permanent marker before a surgery is nothing short of ludicrous. 

Other Stories by Stephanie Wharton
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