Why Are Healthcare Costs So High in the USA versus Other Countries?

Laurie Powell Laurie Powell

What can the USA do to reduce costs?

A recent phenomena in the healthcare industry is the rise of medical tourism. You’ve probably read an article or two that describes how someone can get surgery in Spain and enjoy a two week vacation while there – and the whole trip, including airfare, surgery and the hospital stay, still costs less than what it would cost here in the states just for the surgical procedure. Well, that story has been exposed by Snopes as a hoax.  However, I have American friends who regularly leave the country to have medical procedures and they wax on about the care they receive versus what they would get here in the states.  Not to mention the cost savings.

So, why is that?  Why do Americans pay more for their health care and receive less value and poorer outcomes when compared with other industrialized countries?  The graphs below show the disparity in prices of medical treatments, hospital stays, and pharmaceutical drugs.

For all that money, you would think that America has the best healthcare outcomes in the world, right? Wrong. We are sadly lagging way behind our fellow industrialized countries.  Recently, my colleague, Pediatric Health Advisor, Sheri A. Marino, MA, CCC-SLP wrote about the exemplary healthcare system in Cuba. It seems that the isolation that Cuba received during the Cold War and the USA embargo benefited their health.  Cubans adopted more healthy eating and living practices out of necessity, eschewing modern farming methods.

Going the factory-farm / pesticide / GMO route has contaminated America’s food supply.  On top of that, we increased our consumption of junk foods instead of whole foods.  Americans became obese and ill, and instead of fixing the problems with our food supply, we take prescription drugs to allay our symptoms. Americans take more drugs than any other nation on earth.  But, those drugs aren’t making us healthier. Our disease rates continue to skyrocket and disease states now begin at an even earlier age.

So, what exactly ARE our health outcomes?

Cuba is a rare exception.  But, America still lags behind other industrialized nations.  What are other countries doing differently? Well, for starters, many have adopted a universal healthcare system.  What we now call Medicare for All.   But, does universal healthcare mean we have to pay more in taxes? You know how Americans hate to pay taxes.  But, think about it. You can pay upfront for socialized medicine through your taxes, knowing you aren’t paying for the uninsured through social programs.  Or you can pay the doctor later for your own healthcare maladies that aren’t covered by your insurance.  Because you know those insurers do NOT like to pay for whatever it is that you most need.   At least with the former option, you have peace of mind that a catastrophic illness won’t bankrupt you or a family member.

Surely Americans live a longer life though, right? Uh. No.

Actually, we fall below all of our sister countries.  Even Costa Ricans outlive us and they are a third world country.  That’s shameful. Obviously, we are doing something wrong.

Wait, though.  We have the technology.  We have the best drug research and development on the planet. That’s why our drug costs are so high, right? Wrong. Let’s look at what that pharma money is really paying for. The USA and New Zealand are the only countries on the planet that allow direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceutical drugs.  We have been conditioned to think that we can just pop a pill and cure anything – without having to improve our diet or exercise or do any of the other healthy practices that keep our sister nations healthy. We’ve been brainwashed and at a very high price.  The price of our health, our longevity, and our cost for care.

Did you know that pharmaceutical companies pay more to lobby politicians than the lobby expenditures of oil & gas combined?  That’s a crazy amount of money.  No wonder our drugs cost more than other countries where DTC advertising isn’t allowed.  And, naught for nothing, those TV commercials and magazine ads and online ads cost big bucks.  How much of that pharma profit is really going into R&D? Is more money being spent to fast-track drugs to market that haven’t been tested properly?  Or are we just lab rats for Big PhRMa?

There is also the cost of diagnostic tests.  Have you noticed that US doctors are so quick to test you for whatever ails you? You think those tests are necessary to confirm their diagnosis, right?  Wrong.  We pay more for our healthcare overall because testing is part of the diagnostic healthcare paradigm.  Not so in the rest of the world. Those tests are often unnecessary and/or designed to treat you with a pharmaceutical drug well before a disease is truly evident.  See my earlier article on prediabetes, not to mention prehypertension. REALLY?! Prehypertension is now a thing?  Yes, it is.  And, it’s a huge money maker for pharma because it is the gateway drug to your life dependency on drugs to treat the side effects of the drugs you are already taking.  Vicious cycle, people. VICIOUS!



We’re not finished with this topic, not by a long shot. Stay tuned for Part II of my exposé on the real cost of healthcare in America.

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