By Noah Prozan, Managing Editor-in-Chief
There is an ongoing debate between both sides of the political spectrum about the health care system in our country. Republicans in Congress recently drafted a bill to repeal the controversial Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, but abandoned the legislation before it could be proposed to the House floor. While congressional leaders may not have passed the new bill, they focused on a significant problem that needs to be addressed in the future: our sickly health care system.
I believe the Affordable Care Act, built on top of the imperfect system we had in place before its passage, has not and will not serve to limit government spending in health care. However, this piece serves not as an assessment of the Affordable Care Act but rather a reminder of how messed up our country’s healthcare system is.
According to the most recent research by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, health care expenditures accounted for 17.5% of the United States Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2014. Moreover, the trajectory of our spending is projected to increase. Health care expenditures will account for approximately 19.6% of the U.S. GDP in 2024.
To put in perspective, military spending is only 4.6% of our GDP and education spending is 5.1%. The U.S. government spends three times as much money on healthcare than on our military and our public schools. An increase in health care expenditures will take money away from other very important sectors.
With such extensive financial investment into our healthcare system, it would make sense if we had a strong system compared to the rest of world. Our government spends one-third as much on defense yet we have the strongest military in the world.
When it comes to healthcare systems, however, if the United States is leading, it’s leading from behind.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the United States ranks 42nd in life expectancy at birth and 57th in infant mortality rates. Countries that rank ahead of the US in both categories include: The United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Monaco, Macau, Israel, and Malta.
Some people would falsely claim that a number of the aforementioned countries pay a higher tax rate for these systems to benefit them. However, UK, Germany, France, and Japan all spend under 12% on health care expenditures as a percentage of their GDP- significantly less than the United States. National medical expenditures per capita in the U.S. are more than twice those of the United Kingdom.
I have listed three issues that contribute to our sickly high health rates. These definitely aren’t the only in our healthcare system, but these are the ones I consider some of the more glaring problems.
First, drug prices in the United States are excruciatingly high because we don’t have a sufficient cost containment method. Pharmaceutical companies can manipulate the prices of their products to gain ridiculous profits knowing that buyers literally cannot live without their drugs.
Moreover, the United States offers many more diagnostic services like CT scans, and X-Rays. These services, while definitely helpful in gaining information, are also overused. In 2010, the U.S. practiced more than the twice the number of CT scans and MRI tests than the average of other members in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD), according to the OECD. Running the necessary equipment is expensive, and such machines are used more frequently than they need to be which adds to the hefty costs of our system.
Thirdly, administration costs are particularly high in the United States and will continue to be as the country slowly phases in technological advances. A higher speed of information transferral will save time for administrators and expenses on supplies.
Our system needs to do a better job of preventing harm before it demands treatment. For example, childhood obesity has nearly tripled among teens and children over the past 30 years, and the rate is only expected to grow, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services. Approximately 112,000 people die of obesity each year, and treatment costs amount to over $280 billion. If we prioritize measures that avoid obesity in its inception as opposed to treating somebody already with obesity-related symptoms, our system will save lives and money.
We need to fix our system quickly. Americans are aging, and older people are much more likely to use medical services than the young. Unfortunately, Medicare, which provides healthcare to the elderly, will become insolvent by 2030, according to the program’s Board of Trustees. Losing Medicare would leave over 50 million elderly and disabled people uninsured.
However, the U.S. is doing some things correctly. We’re leading innovations in cancer treatment. Compared to other developed nations, the U.S. has very high survival and success rates for cancer treatments. But with the amount of money our country is investing in its health care system, we are not reaping enough benefits.
To some extent, the failures of our healthcare system are a microcosm of the failures of our democracy. Although younger people represent a greater percentage of the population than the elderly, older people cast more ballots and vote at a much higher frequency than the young. Even if the people voting do so with a variety of interests and ideologies, we have a misrepresented voting base that consequently does not aptly represent the American population’s needs and points of view. Moreover, a lack of partisanship also contributes to legislation deadlock.
The healthcare situation in the United States is so layered and complex that there are many different ways a solution could be approached. As high school students, it is important that we keep a present mind on current events and that we push reform for the future.