Health care issues: US costs vs. other countries

AP News
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Posted: Nov 13, 2009 10:18 AM

A look at key issues in the health care debate.

THE ISSUE: U.S. health care costs are significantly higher than those in other developed countries.

THE POLITICS: Americans spend an average of $7,290 a year on health care, more than twice the average for developed countries. Despite that, the United States lags in life expectancy, infant mortality and preventable deaths. The idea that the U.S. overpays for health care is a major driver behind President Barack Obama's push to overhaul the system, and it translates into a political blame game: Democrats accuse insurance companies of making "immoral" profits. Conservatives and business charge that costs are driven up by malpractice suits that force doctors to practice defensive medicine by ordering too many tests. Consumers themselves also drive up costs by demanding excessive tests and services, but that's a message politicians are reticent to deliver.

WHAT IT MEANS: There are several major reasons for the disparity between what the United States spends and what it gets, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. One is the large number of Americans who lack health insurance or are underinsured, either because their employers don't provide it or they are out of work. Only the U.S., Turkey and Mexico among OECD's 30 member nations fail to provide something close to universal coverage. If everyone were covered, costs and risks would be spread over more people and that would help control costs, the organization says.

_ Jim Drinkard