At the heart of the economic case for U.S. healthcare reform is a simple comparison: Whereas America spends 16 percent of GDP on healthcare, the average across OECD countries was 8.9 percent, as of 2007.
So what do these frugal healthcare systems look like from the ground? T.R. Reid tries to find out in his book “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care.”
In this health-policy travelogue, Reid visits a number of nations and interacts with their healthcare systems as he seeks help for a bum shoulder.
The main commonality is far from revelatory: lots more government. In one country, government determines the prices for medical treatment, in another it’s running the hospitals and employing the doctors.
So, too, would various Democratic plans for U.S. healthcare reform increase government intervention. Greater subsidies for the purchase of private insurance, new regulations on insurance companies, and, most likely, some sort of new government-run health plan.
But when one imagines what a post-reform American healthcare system might look like, there are two notable aspects in which it would still differ greatly from other OECD nations.
First, American doctors may pay as much as a hundred times more for malpractice insurance than their foreign counterparts, and will likely be sued several times during a career. Democratic healthcare reform would mostly leave this system in place.
But there is reason to believe that medical-liability reform could produce big cost savings. The Congressional Budget Office pegs the savings in overall healthcare spending at $110 billion over 10 years.
Some private estimates are far higher. A new study by the healthcare analytics unit of Thomson Reuters (http://r.reuters.com/nuc85f ) finds that defensive medicine — such as overuse of antibiotics and lab tests — by malpractice-jittery doctors costs the United States as much as $300 billion a year.
Another important difference is in what healthcare providers are paid. Reid’s book is full of examples of spartan medical facilities and doctors compensated more like high-end New York Times reporters than low-end Manhattan hedge fund managers.
Yet seeking to appease the doctors lobby, Democrats recently tried and failed to shield physicians from $250 billion in Medicare reimbursement cuts over the next decade. Expect them to try again.
Can ObamaCare “bend the curve” of rising healthcare costs? Not if it attempts to pay for reform more through higher taxes than by cutting compensation for doctors and trial attorneys.