I've just updated my work on quantifying the causes (or villains if you will) behind soaring US healthcare costs. This is now posted on our globalhealthnet website.
The article answers a very obvious question that isn't addressed elsewhere: What are all the reasons for US healthcare costs to be over twice those in other first world economies, and what is the precise contribution (in dollars per capita) of each of these factors? Identifying and then understanding the relative magnitude of the problems goes to the heart of the political and policy debates in this election season before proposing any solutions.
In other words if the OECD median healthcare cost is $2,922 per capita in 2005 and the corresponding US figure is a whopping $6,401, what contributes (and how much) to this difference? I list, quantify and briefly discuss the seven factors responsible for this difference. Interestingly, the two smallest factors are the ones that US healthcare apologists play up the most: malpractice insurance premiums that add 1.5% and "more" care and services that add 3.5% to the total bill.
The other five factors adding to US costs in order of their percent contribution are medical resource waste (15%), administrative waste (14%), defensive medicine (9%), inflated physician salaries because of artificially induced scarcity (6%) and higher drug prices (5%).
You'd have expected this topic to have been widely addressed and talked about by the healthcare industry pundits, experts, academics and researchers. Publications like Health Affairs or the New England Journal of Medicine should have been full of peer-reviewed articles on this. But there may be a good reason that hasn't happened.
The industry players collectively benefit enormously from the high US health expenditures. So long as they point fingers at one another without precise quantification it is easier to escape the spotlight and let the existing system continue. A publication like this will offend all players, and anyone dependent on the industry risks losing a career, tenure, research grants, consulting assignments and speaking engagements. People also tend to be protective of their own interest groups. For example in my July 16, 2007 post I had described the distorted reporting by Dr. Sanjay Gupta while critiquing "Sicko" even as he posed as an objective journalist.
Even from my perspective, high US health costs and a dysfunctional system with lots of uninsured people helps boost medical tourism. So why did I write this article? I'd like to think it's a matter of conscience or the satisfaction of working towards a better system for consumers. A more cynical view by others can be that I don't really expect much change from my good-guy efforts. It's like electric utility companies that make their money selling power, and yet send those mailings urging us to conserve energy and offer tips on how to do so.