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Survey Shows Americans Pay a Lot More For Health Care

National Journal, 3/4/12

(POZNYAKOV/SHUTTERSTOCK,COM) A patient surrounded by staff in an operating room.

By Maggie Fox | Updated: March 4, 2012 | 4:29 p.m.

Americans spend more than people in other countries on just about every medical procedure and doctor visit, according to a new report from the International Federation of Health Plans

The group’s survey of expenses for medical procedures, tests, scans and treatments in nine countries shows that Americans pay more for physician time, for scans, surgery and drugs than people in Spain, France, Germany, Argentina, Chile, Canada, India and Switzerland with one exception – cataract surgery costs more in Switzerland.

“For example, a hospital stay costs an average of $1,825 in Spain, $5,004 in Germany and an average of $15,734 in the U.S.  An appendectomy ranges from an average of $1,030 in Argentina, to $5,509 in Chile, to an average of $13,003 in the U.S. The survey also found that the cost of a widely prescribed drug like Nexium can range from $69 in Switzerland to $193, the average cost in the U.S.,” the report reads.

The findings help reinforce what many health experts have been saying: health care costs more in the United States to a lrge degree because doctors, hospitals, drug and medical device companies charge more. Drug companies say U.S. spending on medicines helps pay for research and development and makes up for lower prices overseas. Physician groups point out that a medical school education costs far more in the United States than elsewhere.

Whatever the reasons, the outcome is clear. Americans pay more. Health spending as a percentage of GDP, according to this group, is 17.4 percent in the U.S. versus 11.8 percent in France, where medicine is socialized, and 9.5 percent in Spain.

And the cost will continue to rise. Sean Keehan and colleagues at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have projected that national health spending will grow by 5.8 percent per year through 2020, 1.1 percent more than what is projected for the gross domestic product. They predict the health share of the gross domestic product is projected to increase from 17.6 percent in 2009 to 19.8 percent by 2020.

The IFHP team scanned a combination of providers in each country for the survey, but tried to come up with a representative number. The U.S. numbers came from data provided from private insurers by Thomson Reuters; data for Spain came from a combination of public and private payors and so on.

The findings: coronary artery bypass surgery, a common procedure in which surgeons take a blood vessel from one part of the body and use it to make a bypass around a clogged artery near the heart, costs $4,525 in India but on average $67,583 in the United States.

The scanning and imaging fees of an angiogram – a scan that uses x-rays to find clogged arteries -- run from $35 in Canada to an average of $798 in the United States, although they can range as high as $2,341 in the U.S. The next-most expensive country is Argentina, where the fees are $665, the study found.

Daily charges for a hospital stay range from $236 a day in India to average of $3,949 in the United States – and as much as $11,496. Chile is the second-most expensive country, with charges running $1,552.

The cost of giving birth is one place where the U.S. really stands out. Total hospital and physician costs for having a baby are $1,291 in Argentina, $1,967 in Spain, $8,495 in Switzerland and $9,280 in the U.S.

The only procedure the report finds that costs more outside the U.S. is cataract surgery, which costs $5,310 in Switzerland and $3,748 in the United States – although there were American centers that charged as much as $7,806. Argentina came in at the low end, with cataract surgery there costing just $597.

A routine doctor’s office visit costs just $9 in Argentina, $11 in Spain, $16 in India, $23 in France, $30 in Canada, $40 in Germany, $45 in Chile, $64 in Switzerland and $89 in the United States.



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