The New York Times
By REED ABELSON
Published: July 17, 2008
the second national scorecard from this influential health
policy research group, shows that the United States spends more
than twice as much on each person for health care as most other
industrialized countries. But it has fallen to last place among
those countries in preventing deaths through use of timely and
effective medical care, according to the report by the
Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit research group in
Access to care in the
The findings are likely to provide supporting evidence for the political notion that the nation’s health care system needs to be fixed. Both presumptive presidential nominees, Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama, argue that the country needs to get more value for its health care money, even if they do not agree on what changes would be most effective. But few people these days defend the status quo.
“It’s harder to keep deluding yourself or be complacent that we don’t have areas that need improvement,” said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund.
The study, which assesses the
“The central finding is that access has deteriorated,” Ms. Davis said.
Even some experts who are quick to point to some of the country’s medical successes, as in reducing the deaths from heart disease or childhood cancers, for example, also acknowledge the need for change.
“We need to generate better value in this country,” said Dr. Denis A. Cortese, the chief executive of the Mayo Clinic.
In some cases, the nation’s progress was overshadowed by improvements in other industrialized countries, which typically have more centralized health systems, which makes it easier to put changes in place.
Other countries worked hard to improve,
according to the Commonwealth Fund researchers.
The presidential candidates both emphasize the
need to shift the country’s health priorities, to provide more
medical care that helps prevent people from developing disease
and that helps control conditions before they become expensive
and hard to treat. And the mounting evidence indicates that such
issues are not simply political talking points, said Len
Nichols, a health economist at New America Foundation, a
nonprofit group in
More hospital executives and doctors understand their performance could be better, Mr. Nichols said.
Dr. James J. Mongan, the chief executive of
Partners HealthCare System, a big medical network in
Business leaders also see a pressing need for health care changes, said Helen Darling, the president of the National Business Group on Health, which represents big employers that provide medical benefits to their workers. The report “documents that it’s been as bad as we have been thinking it is,” she said.
But Ms. Darling and others were also heartened because some areas in the report said that the United States had shown marked improvement, including the measurements hospitals use to track how well they treated conditions like heart failure and pneumonia.
“It proves once again if you have quantitative information and metrics and make people pay attention, they change,” Ms. Darling said.
But the report also emphasizes the inefficiencies of the American health care system. The administrative costs of the medical insurance system consume much more of the current health care dollar, about 7.5 percent, than in other countries.
Bringing those administrative costs down to the level of 5 percent or so as in Germany and Switzerland, where private insurers play a significant role, would save an estimated $50 billion a year in the United States, Ms. Davis said.
“It kind of dwarfs everything else you can do,” she said.
Much of the high costs are attributed to the lack of computerized systems that may link pharmacies and doctors’ offices for filling prescriptions, for example, or that may enable insurers to more efficiently pay doctors’ bills.
“An awful lot of the waste in this system is the antiquity of the information technology,” Ms. Darling said.
Karen Ignagni, the chief executive of America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group, argues that much of the higher administrative costs stem from the additional services provided by United States insurers, like disease management programs, and the burdensome regulatory and compliance costs of doing business in 50 states. A more uniform system could result in savings, she said.