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New Facts on U.S. Health Care: U.S. Ranks Poorly with Other Wealthy Nations

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A new study from the Commonwealth Fund highlights once again problems throughout the U.S. health care system—problems that progressives, the U.S. business community, and the American people all recognize despite desperate conservative efforts to demonize any and all universal health care proposals. The new study compares our health care system’s performance to that of other developed countries. In doing so, it shines a harsh light on the quality of care we receive.

Americans with two or more chronic conditions, for example, are twice as likely to experience medical, medication, or lab errors as people in countries such as Germany. Additionally, they are 38 percent more likely to receive conflicting information from different health care providers than people in Canada.

We also have longer waiting times for needed care than people in countries with so-called socialized medicine. Only 30 percent of Americans have access to same-day care. In Germany, 55 percent do. In New Zealand, 53 percent do. Americans find it twice as difficult to get care at night and on weekends without going to emergency rooms compared with the Dutch.

And (not surprisingly in the most expensive health system in the world), the cost of health care in the United States poses health risks. More than 30 percent of adults in the United States report some cost-related barrier to needed care. If the person has a chronic disease, the percentage increases to 42 percent. This is nearly five times higher than in the United Kingdom.

Or consider that roughly one-third of American adults had medical expenses exceeding $1,000 in the past year. Only 12 percent of adult Canadians and 4 percent of adult Britons paid this much. So not only do Americans have longer waits for needed care than the citizens of nations with universal coverage; we also ration based on income, illness, and insurance status in such a way that we pay much more for health care than we should. What’s worse, nearly 47 million Americans lack any health insurance and millions more have inadequate coverage.

This is obviously unacceptable. The United States is exceedingly wealthy and the most powerful nation on earth. We also pay the most in the world for health care. We dedicate over 16 percent of our economy—$2 trillion a year—to health care. On a per-person basis, our health care costs are 50 percent higher than the second most costly nation. And our businesses have seen health care premiums rise 98 percent since 2000. We simply cannot afford to maintain this broken status quo, as our business leaders understand full well.

So, too, does the American public. The Commonwealth study found that one in three adults believe that the U.S. health care system should be completely rebuilt, while only 16 percent believe it needs only minor changes. In the United Kingdom and Germany, 15 percent and 27 percent, respectively, believe that their systems need to be rebuilt completely.

Conservatives try to downplay the problems that plague our health care system and stoke people’s fear of change in order to avoid reform. But what people should (and do) fear is the cracks and crevices in the current system that are causing disability and death.

There are practical solutions to our nation’s health system problems. Democrats and progressive organizations such as the Center for American Progress have been advancing pragmatic, cost-effective solutions that retain choice. Americans deserve a better health care system—and a more honest debate about how to get it.

To learn more about the Center’s health care policy proposals, see the Health Care page.

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