The biggest problem in American health care is one that the Republican health care planswon't really try to solve. To be fair, it's one that Obamacare didn't touch, either.
The biggest problem facing American health care is our prices.
In the United States, we pay outlandishly high prices for our trips to the doctor, hospital visits, and prescription drugs. In the United States, an MRI costs, on average, $1,119. In Australia the scan costs $215, and in Switzerland $503. It is the exact. Same. Scan. (See chart here).
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About a year ago, I wrote a story about a family that went to the emergency room, had a Band-Aid put on their 1-year-old daughter's finger, and then were billed $629 for the encounter. Since then, I've gotten countless letters describing other outlandish medical bills. These include:
- A $2,237 bill for liquid stitches and a bandage. This emergency room visit lasted from about 11:30 pm until 1 am, so the hospital billed for two days spent there.
- A $900 bill for four stitches in the emergency room
- A $1,000 bill for a pneumonia vaccination delivered in a health care clinic
The list goes on and on. These sky-high prices are what make health care policy a vexing exercise for legislators on both sides of the aisle. Because our prices are so high and the federal government has a limited budget, the architects of the Affordable Care Act settled on expanding access to largely high-deductible health plans. The Republican plans would drive those deductibles even higher, leaving consumers on the hook to cover the pricey services.
If we don't tackle high prices, it makes it nearly impossible to imagine ever transitioning to a national health care system to cover all Americans.
High prices have a strong lobby here in Washington. Each dollar spent on medical care goes toward a hospital, a doctor, a medical device maker, or a pharmaceutical company. But until legislators decide this is an issue worth tackling, they will find themselves hard-pressed to deliver a reform bill that Americans actually like.