Healthcare Costs and Life Expectancy

I am embarrassed to admit that I have not been following the health care story nearly as closely as I should be (yes, I do know the headlines, and have read a bunch of articles). I found a Frontline documentary from 2008 very informative (Sick Around the World):

In Sick Around the World, FRONTLINE teams up with veteran Washington Post foreign correspondent T.R. Reid to find out how five other capitalist democracies -- the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland -- deliver health care, and what the United States might learn from their successes and their failures.

I was surprised to find out that Switzerland was actually a country that had only implemented public health care within recent memory (1994), and it came from a private system similar to the US. Just something that gave some hope, during the debate.

I also recommend this Atlantic article ("How American Health Care Killed My Father"):

After the needless death of his father, the author, a business executive, began a personal exploration of a health-care industry that for years has delivered poor service and irregular quality at astonishingly high cost. It is a system, he argues, that is not worth preserving in anything like its current form. And the health-care reform now being contemplated will not fix it. Here’s a radical solution to an agonizing problem.

One thing that I have heard over and over again in the debate is that the United States has the highest per capita health care costs, but with completely mediocre results, by any metric. I did some web-sleuthing to see if I could find a plot or something along those lines. Google to the rescue--a Columbia prof plotted per capita healthcare expenditures against life expectancy (his full blog post here).

Wow. I say again, wow. The US is even more of an outlier than it was in the religiosity-vs.-income post from a few years ago. It's impressive just to look at these first-world countries that have no problem maintaining good lifespans while spending roughly half of the US amount; the professor's blog post has a less streamlined scatter plot, but with even more countries on it.

Overall, I am glad that this country is starting to move towards the rest of the world in terms of having a more-rational health care system (at least I hope so). But I am afraid that I am not very hopeful on the plan's ability to bring costs down... which, if you look at the graph, seems to be the fundamental problem.

Anyway, as a last note--the Atlantic had a post (Understanding How Health Care Reform Will Affect You):

Last night the House of Representatives passed the Senate health care bill, and the Democrats' year of living flirtatiously with failure ended with what I would call the greatest progressive achievement of the last two generations. We -- that is you, me, and everyone we know -- have spent months wrangling over the implications of health care on the deficit and the cost curve and the tenor of DC politics. But now that the bill has become a law, the most useful approach to health care is to servicey rather than debatey: so what does it mean for you, anyway?

It included a useful link to a Washington Post interactive tool "...that asks users to enter their source of health care (employer, Medicare, etc), household members, marital status and income, which it uses to calculate how the new health care law will affect you." I tried it out: it claims that there will be no change in my insurance coverage, and I will not pay additional taxes. Fair enough... let's keep an eye on all of this.


At 7:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have much to say about the actual structure of the US bill, because I don't know much of it.

But I will note that it seems like part of the underlying problem with it is embodied in a "how will this affect me?" application which exclusively discusses its direct effects on one's immediate family.


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