The question has come up again and again in our discussions on health care in the US and around the world, why does it cost so much more in the US when we get so much less?
The drug companies and their lobbyists are already out in force trying to make sure their pocketbooks aren’t hit by the inevitable reforms that are coming. In particular they insist drugs aren’t the problem in the US, it’s administrative costs! I would tend to disagree.
Based upon my experience working in the sytem, the main causes of excess costs I would hypothesize are the following (in order of importance):
- An excess of cost in administration far out of line with most countries around the world.
- Pharmaceutical costs – especially due to the effects of direct to consumer advertising (DTCA) encouraging use of more expensive, newer drugs (which is only allowed in the US), Medicare part D which forbids collective bargaining for lower drug prices, and a broken patent system that allows drug makers to patent and charge more for non-novel medications.
- The absence of a universal system that prevents risk-sharing, and causes the uninsured to avoid treatment until problems are more critical, and more expensive.
- Excessive reimbursement of physicians for procedural skills, rather than cost-saving physician roles such as primary care and family practice that emphasize early diagnosis and proper management of disease.
- Excesses of cost caused by “defensive medicine”. While torts themselves don’t cause a great deal of monetary damage, the culture they create is one of paranoia in physicians who make decisions with lawsuits in mind, rather than the interests of patients and society
- The excessive costs in ICU care, especially at the end of life, which may also be reduced by better EMRs with recording of living wills, and public information campaigns designed to inform people about the pain, invasiveness and futility of “doing everything” in the elderly.
- The absence of an electronic medical record that is universal which causes redundancy in testing as patients see new doctors who then order redundant tests because sharing of information is so inefficient.
But these may just be my biased views based on my own limited experience. Let’s see what the data show. The McKinsey Global Institute has generated a report on this, and has broken down the data according to the individual costs in our system, while comparing it to that of other countries.