USA ranks far above Western allies in medical costs

USA ranks far above Western allies in medical costs

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

USA ranks far above Western allies in medical costs

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by Kelly Kennedy, USA TODAY

KING5.com

Posted on April 17, 2014 at 7:06 AM

WASHINGTON — A new report shows that American medical procedures and medications continue to far out-cost those of other Western nations, even when comparing only private care.

• An MRI costs $138 in Switzerland, $350 in Australia and $1,145 in the U.S.

• A hospital stay costs $481 a day in Spain, $1,308 a day in Australia and $4,293 a day in the U.S.

• And giving birth with no complications costs $2,251 in Spain, $6,623 in Australia and $10,002 in the U.S.

"If you go for something like an MRI, you'll find that the fairly advanced countries are so much cheaper — Holland, Australia," said Tom Sackville, chief executive of the International Federation ​of Health Plans, which conducted the study. "There doesn't seem to be any justification for the outliers in the United States."

The study, which, for the first time this year, compares private plans in countries that typically use state medicine to the United States' private medical industry, found the United States at the top end of the scale for almost every measure. Australians pay slightly more — less than $100 — for cataract surgery. Past studies showing both private and public payment systems showed the United States in a far worse light.

"Doctors in the private sector get away with some pretty high prices," Sackville said. "They are getting precisely the same products for the same money."

Sackville said there are several factors at work: American doctors receive much higher salaries. For example, in England, a cardiac surgeon earns an average of £97,547 a year, or $163,859. An American cardiac surgeon earns an average of $762,846.

Most medications and medical devices come in through a single payer — the government — in the other countries.

"The private sector follows those prices," Sackville said. "In the case of drugs, those are precisely the same medicines. Somehow, because of the lack of central purchasing or lack of any mechanism to control prices, the pharmaceutical industry has managed to pick up higher prices in the States."

And, he said, politics seem to come into play as medical associations and pharmaceutical groups lobby for higher prices. There doesn't appear to be a correlation between quality and cost, he said.

"I think the rest of the world assumes America is expensive because they consume a lot of health care, but that doesn't seem to be the case," he said. "It's not the utilization — it's not that you're in love with health care. And the outcome isn't any better; you're not any happier or any healthier."

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