Thursday, August 8, 2013

United States Health Care Has a Price Problem

The third article in a new series by Elisabeth Rosenthal in the NY Times is about joint replacement. In short, if you need a joint replaced, don't do it in the United States. There is an excellent interview on NPR with the author about this article as well.

In the US most of us have a feeling that our healthcare is more expensive than it needs to be. How many fountains are there in hospitals? Yet having only had one small experience with healthcare in a foreign country (Costa Rica, and my friend basically had the flu) I do not really have anything to compare to, until I read the article and heard the interview. This is a problem. I look at even my health care costs, $340 a month, and I wonder, how in the world those 15 malarone malaria pills, that I paid $115 for anyway, warrant that kind of monthly payment when in the year I have no other medical costs to date? Last year I only had a doctor visit and x-ray, which cost me about $150.

It makes me wonder, if I opted out of insurance, saved the $4000 per year after a few years I would have enough to really self-insure myself for nearly everything. Not cancer, or a paralyzing accident, but in those cases at my young age I might be able to sue someone. The point being, $4000 is a lot of money for the slight chance that a healthy young person like myself will need $4000 in medical car in a given year.

What are some solutions?

  • Transparent prices for products and services. Open the price information up to a market so that people can clearly see the costs before the procedures. 
  • Less administration, we have reduced the person count in manufacturing, why not in healthcare? It is not only the fact that there is so much administration, it is that each person or company has a profit on top of the salaries required to sell the pills and plastics. I am all for increased employment, but when that quintuples the cost of the service provided compared to other countries, like Belgium, we have just gone too far.
  • Accurate information about procedure outcomes, such as percent of people with X type of cancer and Y type of treatment that were cancer free five and ten years later. I have been offered an MRI for an issue that was visible, although only slightly, on an x-ray. No thank you, that is $1000+ I do not need to spend.
All of those negatives being said, we have a price problem, not a value problem. It is still very possible to get great health care in this country from many of the best doctors and nurses and medical product companies in the world. Despite the fact it is overpriced, it is still a high value product. 

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