Skip to main content

U.S. Health Care Costs $2.8 Trillion. Do We Get Our Money’s Worth?

By Kyle Marshall | June 19, 2014 | Health Conditions

Feature Blog Image

The United States spent $2.8 trillion on health care in 2012. So what did we get for our money? A last-place ranking in health quality and efficiency among 11 leading nations, according to a new report.

The Commonwealth Fund measured a variety of health rankings and compared the results. Not only did the U.S. fare worse on such measures as healthy lifestyles and access to care, but our per capita expenditures, at $8,508 a year, were much higher than the other nations. This chart paints a picture of where we stand relative to other industrialized nations. It’s not the first time the Commonwealth Fund, which researches health care issues, has found the U.S. health care system lacking in value.

Addressing the Problem in North Carolina

It shouldn’t take another such report to point out the value problem in health care. It’s an issue we’ve addressed for several years at our Let’s Talk Cost site and elsewhere. But there’s less consensus on what to do about it. There’s promise — and at least some agreement on the part of the various entities in health care — in the need to give consumers a greater say in health care decisions.

This also means equipping patients with resources and information to help them make good choices. Hand-in-hand with greater consumer responsibility is greater innovation in health care as we transition to a payment system based on the value of care rather than the volume of procedures performed. Patients at first might not see the difference that accountable care organizations, flat-fee payments and other new arrangements can make. But these innovations are taking off in North Carolina. At BCBSNC, for example, we currently have agreements with hospitals and doctors to pay a single flat rate for knee replacement surgeries. This gives hospitals an added incentive for providing high-quality, cost-effective care, since they would have to absorb the costs for complications and readmissions.

Will Health Care Reform Help?

Then there’s the Affordable Care Act. It remains to be seen what impact it will have on the value equation. Certainly, more people are covered than before. But that could result in higher insurance premiums as a result of covering more people with medical conditions. The Commonwealth Fund report is only one snapshot of U.S. health care. Other studies, for example, have shown that survival rates for certain cancers are higher in the United States than most other countries. Many people facing an acute disease or medical emergency would rather be treated in the United States than anywhere else. Still, the report serves a purpose by shining a new spotlight on the ills of our system. That’s one more reason to keep pushing for real changes that address health care costs and improve quality. To learn more about ways to improve our system, visit our Solutions section at Let’s Talk Cost, then leave your comments below or on our Facebook page.