Thursday, January 10, 2008

US healthcare: we spend and spend, but....

This week the Department of Health and Human Services released the news that US healthcare spending broke the $2 trillion mark in 2006. Yes, you read that right: TWO TRILLION DOLLARS. This is despite the fact that the annual increase in healthcare costs has actually slowed down a bit in the past few years. (Read more at the NYT here.)

What do we get for this enormous outlay? Well, not so much as you might think, and not as much (in terms of outcomes) as lots of other countries that spend less.

In 2007, the Commonwealth Fund surveyed 12,000 people in 7 countries: Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK, and the US. (You can find the abstract in Health Affairs, here.) Despite spending nearly double what some of the other countries spend per capita on healthcare, US respondents were more likely to report experiencing medical errors; going without needed care because they can't afford it; and to say that the healthcare system needs to be completely rebuilt. We--along with our neighbors to the north--are also least likely to be able to get a same-day appointment when we're sick, and more likely to show up in the ER because we don't have an alternative.

Consider just this one fact: 32% of Americans surveyed who had two or more chronic conditions said that they'd experienced a medical error in the prior 2 years. Keep in mind that these are just the errors patients know about!

So, it being election time (as if we could forget!), let's see if we can't get the candidates to say more than just "Healthcare is broken, and I'm gonna fix it." Covering more people is an excellent start--but just a start. Among other items on the healthcare to-do list: figure out how to improve quality, how to re-value primary care, and how to help people be more effective self-advocates.

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