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March 15th, 2012
04:48 PM ET

As Supreme Court arguments near, does the U.S. really have the best health care system?

Dave Schechter
Senior National Editor

The United States has the best health care system in the world – don’t mess with it!

The U.S. health care system needs to be fixed so that everyone can afford the care they need!

Those competing refrains from the 2009 summer of contentious health care reform town halls (example: Ybor City, Florida) will be heard again March 26-28 when the Supreme Court of the United States hears three days of historic argument over whether elements of the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama in two years ago this month violate or are within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution.

Interestingly, 14 percent of Americans believe the Supreme Court already has struck down the Affordable Care Act, according to a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. In line with other polls, most respondents (51 percent) to the Kaiser survey believe the law’s requirement that Americans purchase insurance is unconstitutional, while 28 percent felt it constitutional. By a similar margin of 53 percent to 33 percent, most respondents expect the Supreme Court to overturn the law.

Pending those rulings by the Supreme Court, provisions of the law will continue to take effect.

"I believe that the health care bill that was enacted by the current Congress will kill jobs in America, ruin the best health care system in the world, and bankrupt our country," House Speaker John Boehner, A Republican from Ohio, said in November 2010. "That means we have to do everything we can to try to repeal this bill and replace it with common sense reforms to bring down the cost of health care.”

Wendell Potter, a former executive of the CIGNA insurance company and a critic of the industry, this past November wrote a rebuke to the opinion voiced by Boehner and others: “Well, those guys need to get out more. Out of the country, in fact. They need to travel to at least one of the many countries that are doing a much better job of delivering high quality care at much lower costs than the good old USA.”

If you like your doctor, if your insurance works, if you feel that you’re getting good value for your health care dollar, then in your view the U.S. system may rank high. If you don’t have a regular doctor, if you’re without insurance or underinsured, if you’re swamped by medical bills, then in your view the U.S. system may not rank so high. And this is aside from debate over the role of government in the health care system.

Americans spend the most money on health care, both when measured per capita and as a share of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. In 2010, Americans spent a record $2.6 trillion on health care, roughly $8,400 per American, equal to 17.9 percent of the GDP and a “mere” 3.9 percent more than the year before, as the economic slowdown gripped even this area of spending.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported on the burden of health care costs at the dining room table: “In the first 6 months of 2011, one in three persons was in a family experiencing financial burden of medical care. One in 5 persons was in a family having problems paying medical bills, 1 in 4 persons was in a family paying medical bills over time, and 1 in 10 persons was in a family that had medical bills they were unable to pay at all.”

"Accelerating health care costs are a primary reason that the so many American families feel like they are just treading water financially," said David Auerbach, an economist  and lead author of a RAND Corporation study on health care spending. "Unless we reverse the trend, Americans increasingly will notice that health costs compromise their other spending options."

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes the United States, late last year reported that that Americans pay two-and-a-half times more per capital for health care than the average of the 40 nations, including the U.S., included in its survey. The OECD reported that on average Americans spend 60 percent more on hospital treatment than the average of five other countries deemed relatively expensive (Switzerland, Canada, Germany, France and Japan); spending on drugs and other medical supplies is much higher and administrative costs are more than two-and-a-half times higher.

What do Americans get for all that spending? The OECD report puts the U.S. number one in five-year breast cancer survival rates and second (behind Japan) in five-year colorectal survival rates. The U.S. also ranks first in knee replacements and second (again to Japan) in the number of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines per one million people.

On the negative side of the ledger, the U.S. ranked 29th in the number of hospital beds per person, 29th in the average length of a hospital stay, 26th in the number of physicians (notably primary care of family doctors) per 1,000 people and 28th in life expectancy. The average age of death in the U.S. was 78.2 years, compared with an average of 79.5 years in the other OECD countries.

A study released in October by the Commonwealth Fund offered more bad news. The “National Scoreboard on U.S. Health System Performance, 2011” held that the U.S. is losing ground to other countries in assuring citizens equal access to affordable, efficient care. Based on a review of 42 “performance indicators,” the U.S. score of 64 out of a possible 100 showed costs rising, access to care declining and outcomes falling behind the benchmarks. On top of which, the U.S. was falling behind gains made by other nations, ranking last out of 16 countries when judging deaths that could have been prevented by timely and effective care.

The Commonwealth Fund report cited insurance – an issue at the heart of the spending SCOTUS arguments – as a major issue, stating that last year 81 million adults in the U.S. (44 percent of all adults under age 65) either were uninsured or underinsured at some point during the year. As a result, the report said, Americans are more likely than their counterparts in other nations to die from preventable or treatable conditions.

All of this will come into play as the highest court in the land hears arguments over the health care law inside its chambers, while outside the Supreme Court that refrain – “America has the best health care system in the world” – will be heard and debated anew.

Filed under: CNN Newsroom
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Slevine

    Can't wait till the SCOTUS overturns this job-killing, anti-employer, anti-business piece of socialist legislation.

    March 15, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  2. Bob

    If the government would crack down on the pharmacutical companies the rates for health insurance would go down. They charge rediculous prices for every item they put on the market.

    March 16, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  3. AdolfoSJones

    I just read online about Man robs bank to get medical care in jail and presented the view that if the United States had a health-care system which offered people more government support, he wouldn't have had to make the choice he did but wish somebody told him about "Penny Health" hey i am just trying to find a solution

    March 16, 2012 at 7:37 am |
  4. SteveH

    There has never been any objective measure that shows the US has the world's best health care system. The non-partisan Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress issued a report a few years ago that found, "research comparing the quality of care has not found the United States to be superior overall. Nor does the U.S. population have substantially better access to health care resources, even putting aside the issue of the uninsured. Although the United States does not have long wait times for non-emergency surgeries, unlike some OECD countries, Americans found it more difficult to make same-day doctor’s appointments when sick and had the most difficulty getting care on nights and weekends. They were also most likely to delay or forgo treatment because of cost."

    March 16, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  5. Laruence

    American health care is like American education, we have the best universities but some pathetic secondary education. They have the most cutting edge technology but can't seem to deliver basic care for a reasonable cost to half the population. Odd that we pay 2.5 times as much for what we do have and it falls short in so many categories.
    We have the best healthcare if you can afford it but it has been skyrocketing so fewer and fewer can afford it. The health care tab is paid for by us all with individual insurance policies, taxes to support indigent health care and debtor defaults through bankruptcy (almost half of all bankruptcies). This current system just bloats the tab by adding insurance companies (only taking healthy patients), and treating the uninsured in pricey ERs. The one thing we can all agree on is that we are getting skinned, not getting our money's worth and it was just getting worse before Obamacare.

    March 17, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  6. clemen

    white republicans have become rich off charging high prices for health, drugs and killing people with the cigarettes.

    March 23, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  7. Lazcano

    For the previous anewsr, Medicare isn't PRIVATE insurance here, it's the public system. So yes, it's very cheap (free)!All our health insurance companies are fairly good, and mostly give a fair price with good coverage our public system ensures we don't have a similar problem to the US with insurance companies competing for cut-throat profit. Personally, I'm with MBF, and it works for me. However, if I were you I'd just shop around until you find the best deal.It's not hard, because there are only a handful of funds. If you're young and healthy, look around for a fund that offers extras cover for a reasonable price, as you'll be unlikely to use the basic hospital cover much. If you're a bit older, it's worth reading the fine print so you don't get a policy that excludes important things, like cardiac problems for example.Good luck!

    March 25, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  8. Lim

    The simple aswner is Freedom of Choice. First of all you must understand that there is a great deal of fraud involved with Government run Medicare. Scam artists regularly milk Medicare out of BILLIONS of dollars. Private insurance companies are out to make a profit and therefore investigate the claims much better.It should also be noted that Medicare has approx $1100 deductible each year for hospital coverage and $162 per year for Outpatient deductible. After that the member is responsible for 20% co-insurance. Add to that the fact that there is no routine dental coverage, no routine vision coverage and no prescription drug coverage.Private plans are requires by law to follow federal guidelines that either meet or exceed original Medicare coverage. Most of them far exceed these guidelines. Many plans offer dental, vision part d coverage and even health and wellness, transportation and/or fitness classes (health club memberships)The private insurance companies receive a set monthly per member fee as determined by our federal government and not a percentage. If this amount is less than the cost of care for a certain individual the insurance company is liable to pay with no additional reimbursement.Insurance is actually defined as pure-risk but closely monitored by underwriters. They have an idea of what health care costs but there are so many variables that there is no clear cut number that can actually be obtained. It is all based upon estimates.Private insurance competes for more business and thus offers additional benefits and lower co-payments in order to entice more people to join their plan. We can all keep blaming the big bad insurance companies or give the reigns over to the government who will dictate what we deserve and what they feel we need. What a novel idea. Our government thinks they are more intelligent than we are and has decided that we are too stupid to decide what is best for ourselves.With all of that being said. Everyone still has a choice to have original Medicare or choose a private plan. Medicare advantage is growing at an incredible pace and there are over 11 million seniors and growing who have made this choice. I will side with Seniors on this one. They know what works because they use these programs every day. Not everyone will ever have the same opinion but the overwhelming majority of seniors will tell you quit screwing with my Medicare They like what they have

    May 13, 2012 at 12:54 am |

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