Over two-thirds of Americans believe they pay too much for the quality of health care they receive, according to a 2021 West Health-Gallup Poll. Almost half of Americans feel even worse about the U.S. health care system as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost one-third of Americans said they avoided seeking treatment within the past three months due to the high cost of health care.
Clearly, the American health care system isn't working in a way that helps people. Here are four signs that something needs to change.
Americans spend the most on health care
Americans spend more on health care than any other people — about one-sixth of our nation’s GDP. According to Thomas Rice, Ph.D., at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, our health care expenses are double that of other wealthy nations, like Germany, Japan and the U.K.
“We spend over $4 trillion in the United States each year on health care. It's a large chunk of the entire world spending on health care, around 40%. But if you look at it per person, we spend about $12,500 per person per year on health care," he told NBCLX.
That breaks down to 1 cent per person every half hour spent on health care.
Americans are less healthy
Americans are less healthy and live shorter lives on average than people in other wealthy countries despite paying so much more. That said, longevity isn’t the best measure of a health system’s effectiveness (lifestyle choices also play a part in our health), so Rice pointed to a metric called mortality amenable to health care. It tracks how many in a population die from causes that should be preventable with easy access to good health care, such as sepsis, infections, some heart diseases and some cancers.
“Mortality amenable to health care ... looks at ... if the healthcare system is doing a good job, and what we see is the United States is among the worst ... at keeping people alive from things that they shouldn't be dying from," he explained.
How prices are negotiated
There’s no public option in American health care. Right now, prices are negotiated between providers and insurance companies. A public option would allow the federal government to offer an insurance plan — likely at a much lower price — while still allowing private insurers to offer their plans.
“We're not getting rid of private insurers. We're just letting them compete against a government plan," Rice said. "President Biden during [his] campaign said he wanted a public option. It's never been on the radar screen since he's become president, and the reason is that there would be so much opposition among insurers, among hospital organizations, among physicians, among pharmaceutical companies that it's almost not worthwhile bringing it up."
Poor management of our health care system
The big difference between our system and others is management. In most countries, a public nonprofit organization plays the middleman, managing the health care system and pricing. In the US, private, for-profit corporations play the middleman.
“I think the reason we're paying too much for health care is that we don't have a unified system that can work together to try to lower the prices ... [like] in other countries," Rice said.