The Broken US Health Care System

By Nash Wills, Co-Editor

Back when I lived in Argentina, I paid something like $80 per month for health insurance. Under my plan, I was completely covered for pretty much anything. I went to the dentist once to get my teeth cleaned because there was no out-of-pocket charge. One of the things that Mom passed along to me is jaw alignment issues. I remember the dentist noticing and suggesting that I go to Cordoba to get corrective surgery—he was going to schedule everything. I brushed the idea off as absurd. In the United States, I couldn’t even begin to conceptualize how much that type of operation would run me. So engrained were my perceptions of what health care was that I didn’t even believe him when he told me that the surgery would’ve been covered under my plan. I even remember hearing rumors that for only $30 more per month, I’d be eligible for one free plastic surgery per year…

Courtesy of The Week Magazine
Courtesy of The Week Magazine

I mention this anecdote because the health care debate in the US has recently boiled over again – not that it hasn’t been a hot topic for a while now. Ryancare, Obamacare; it doesn’t matter whose name you put in front of it, both attempts to fix the system were and are destined to fail. Simply put, the US health care system is a clumsy privatized/socialist mash-up fabricated over the course of 8 decades of slapdash decision-making. Is health care a basic necessity that should be provided by the government, or is it a commodity that you can either afford or can’t? I’m sure both sides of the political spectrum would be happy to argue for either the former or the latter while laughing the opposing viewpoint off as preposterous. The result: we continue to be paralyzed, destined to remain stuck with the most expensive and inefficient health care system in the world.

It doesn’t take a genius to come to the conclusion that our current system’s main flaw is its cost. According to a 2014 study done by The Commonwealth Fund, Americans spend $3.3 trillion a year on health care—50-100% more per capita than other developed countries. Although we do receive access to some of the most sophisticated treatments in the world for the prices we pay, generally speaking, we get pretty mediocre service. The US has shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates than almost all other developed nations.

Courtesy of The Week Magazine
Courtesy of The Week Magazine

To give you some tangible comparisons, let’s take a look at a number of drug and surgery costs in the US versus other countries: The average hip replacement costs $29,067 in the US and $6,757 in Spain. An angioplasty in the US runs you $31,620 while only $6,510 in South Africa. The drug Lipitor costs $124 per month here, and $6 in New Zealand. And if by chance you have to go to the hospital for a day, you’d better hope you’re in Australia, where the bill is only $765 per day, rather than in the US, where you’ll be paying $5,220.

Recent studies have found that around 34% of the costs associated with keeping our system running are completely wasted, providing no benefits whatsoever to patients. So what’s the problem? Is it even possible to fix? The short answer: no. There are just too many vested interests and it would require too radical of a change. Doctors, drug and medical device companies, hospitals, insurers, and lawyers depend on the system for their livelihoods, and the lifecycle of politicians isn’t long enough to produce anything lasting. So if you’re expecting a political party to lower that $18,000 average annual cost for health insurance anytime soon, prepare to be disappointed.