Paying double for health care

To the editor:

Why does health care cost so much? As a percentage of the total economy, U.S. health care spending is double the amount spent by other wealthy countries, according to a recent article in the New York Times. About 20 years ago, we spent about the same percentage as other advanced countries, so something has changed. Are we buying more health care? No. People in the U.S. get about the same overall amount of health care as people in other wealthy countries. So why does our country spend so much? It turns out that the reason we spend so much is that health care in the U.S. costs a lot more than health care in other countries. For example, hospital prices are 60 percent higher in the U.S. than they are in Europe. As Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt stated, “It’s prices, stupid.”

So to rephrase the question: “Why are people in the U.S. charged more for health care than people in other countries?” One big reason we pay more is that we have a very complicated system of health insurance. The administrative costs for U.S. health insurance are the highest in the world. Twenty cents of every health dollar is spent on non-medical costs. (In most of the countries with universal health care plans, less than 5 percent of health care dollars are spent on administration.)

Because health care and health insurance are so expensive, many people simply can’t afford the health care they need. People who can’t afford good health insurance live with the constant worry that they might get sick or injured. Some choose to forego doctor’s visits and necessary medications. Some people are forced into bankruptcy by medical bills. Others die. There has to be a better way.

The New York state legislature has been considering a bill that would provide universal health care for all state residents. This bill would ensure comprehensive coverage for all medically necessary services. A study by Amherst economist Gerald Friedman estimated that 98 percent of New Yorkers would pay less for health care coverage than they now pay. In addition, he estimated that cutting out the insurance companies and expensive administrative costs would save the state $45 billion a year.

Sounds interesting, right? If you’d like to learn more, Adirondack Voters for Change is presenting a program on the New York State Health Act on Thursday, Jan. 18, 7 to 8:30 p.m., at Harrietstown Town Hall in Saranac Lake. Three panelists will discuss the legislation, explaining its effects and how it would be funded. As health care costs continue to rise and more and more New Yorkers have lost or face the loss of health coverage, it’s vitally important to consider our options and find a better way forward.

Susan Hahn

Ray Brook