Americans pay more than one and a half trillion dollars for medical care each year and costs related to all manner of health care, such as prescription drugs, continue to skyrocket. While some of reasons behind this booming bill are understandable, Americans caught in a cash crunch might be surprised to find out some of the lesser-known causes of high health care costs.
The words health care might invoke images of doctors, nurses and hospitals, but the reality is that the medical field is a business and a ruthless one at that. Individual practitioners, researchers and participants may have wonderful intentions and a true desire to help people, but the structure of the American health care system ensures profit is the number one issue of importance.
Here are some facts that may help explain the high costs of American health care:
Pharmaceutical research and development companies spend roughly $20 billion each year on R&D, and about the same amount on advertising and self-promotional marketing activities.
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Additionally, drug companies have as many sales people as there are doctors in the United States. One of the responsibilities of this sales force is to convince doctors to attend pharmaceutical company-sponsored seminars where drugs are showcased.
According to some economists, the purchase of new technology is responsible for more than 50 percent of new health care spending over the last three years.
Much of the money Americans pay for health care finds its way into the rising profits on health care-related products and services such as the provision of medical insurance. Even higher costs have been forecasted for the future, especially for prescription drugs.
For many Americans who are unable to afford the health care they need, rising costs represent an ever-increasing barrier to medical services and products. The financial burden is also felt on the larger national scale with about 15 percent of gross domestic product going toward health care costs. That is equal to about one quarter of the annual federal budget.
Comparatively, Canada invests around 10 percent of its GDP on its public health care program. Unlike the United States, Canada’s health care program is universally available to all citizens and permanent residents without cost. Other countries, such as Germany, where there is a public/private delivery system model for health care, manage to serve their populations for even less while still having better longevity than Americans. This proves that the quality of health care does not rise proportionally with the amount of money spent to attain it.
While many Canadians supplement their universal health care with added insurance to cover the cost of medication and perks such as semi-private or private hospital rooms, health care insurance is much more essential in the United States. Unfortunately, costs have been rising dramatically, making health care insurance out of reach for many Americans. Currently, more than forty million Americans do not receive any kind of health care benefit.
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For employers, providing health care insurance for employees is also becoming more expensive, with increases dramatically outpacing inflation rates. Some years, the difference is four or six fold. Even if premiums were to remain static, offering health care insurance to employees still costs several thousand dollars per worker. For smaller companies, or for those who employ a large number of people, these costs can be prohibitive.
Measures to reduce health care costs are always under consideration, though many are not popular choices. Suggestions that have been put forward by various sources have included:
Increased drug awareness and education. Millions could be saved if health care insurance covered only generic versions of drugs that have been proven just as effective as their more expensive brand name counterparts.
Terminate expensive treatment options will only add a short amount of time to a patient’s life, particularly if it will not be quality time (i.e. patient is in a coma).
Promote preventative care such as smart lifestyle choices, proper nutrition and exercise.
Examine to ways to control drug advertising to consumers. There is speculation that advertising has led to prescriptions of non-necessary drugs.
Limit malpractice liability so doctors and medical professionals do not feel pressured to cover themselves by ordering unnecessary tests to substantiate conditions they already know to be present.