High Medical Bills, Superfluous Paperwork Define U.S. Healthcare

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Compared with 10 other industrialized countries, the U.S. healthcare system is far more expensive and cumbersome, according to a new survey from The Commonwealth Fund.

HealthMoneyThe survey looked at adults in the U.S. as well as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Most of the questions asked to participants related to affordability, access and complexity of their respective healthcare systems.

Here were some of The Commonwealth Fund's major findings:

•    The U.S. spends 17.7 percent of its gross domestic product on healthcare. The next closest country was the Netherlands at 11.9 percent. As Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas pointed out in an article yesterday, if the U.S. dropped its healthcare expenditures to 12 percent of GDP, the country would have saved $893 billion last year.

•    Health spending per person in the U.S. was $8,508. The next closest country was Norway, which spent $5,669 on health expenses per person.

•    Not including health insurance premiums, about 40 percent of insured and uninsured U.S. participants said they spent $1,000 or more out of pocket in the past year on medical care. Only 25 percent of Australian adults said the same, while only 2 percent of Swedish adults spent more than $1,000 on out-of-pocket medical costs.

•    About a quarter of U.S. adults had serious problems paying medical bills or were not able to afford them. In France, the next-highest country, only 13 percent had experienced the same.

•    Thirty-two percent of U.S. adults said they spent "a lot of time" on insurance paperwork in the past year, again the highest of all countries surveyed. The average amount spent on health insurance administration per person in the U.S. in 2011 was $606, the highest of all countries, compared with $35 in Norway, the lowest.

•    Access to primary and specialty care was also hard to come by for many Americans. Only 48 percent of U.S. adults have access to a physician or nurse for a same-day or next-day appointment, compared with 76 percent in Germany.

•    Patient after-hours care was the worst for U.S. adults, as only 35 percent said their primary care physician has after-hour care arrangements, compared with 95 percent in the Netherlands and the U.K.

•    Overall, 75 percent of all U.S. adults said their healthcare system needs "fundamental changes" or needs to be "completely rebuilt." The next-closest country in dissatisfaction was France, with 60 percent.

David Blumenthal, MD, president of The Commonwealth Fund and former head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, wrote a blog post on the survey, saying it "shows unequivocally that the United States has the worst health insurance among industrialized nations."

"Whether you're talking administrative hassles, out-of-pocket expenses, costs of administration, complexity of policies or adequacy of coverage, the U.S. consumer gets a bad deal," Dr. Blumenthal wrote. He also said before the implementation of President Obama's healthcare law, the U.S. healthcare system was collapsing "like a house tipping into a sinkhole."

More Articles on U.S. Healthcare:
The Waiting is the Hardest Part
Survey: U.S. Adults More Likely to Forgo Care Because of Cost
The Frail Anatomy of the U.S. Healthcare System

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