U.S. Health Care—Strengths and Weaknesses

Feb 12, 2008

by Tom Donohue

Reforming health care has been a major issue in the presidential campaign. What the debate has lacked is an honest appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of our health care system.

On the positive side—which is too often ignored—we are home to the finest medical facilities, technologies, innovations, treatments, and human talent. Many of the world’s best medical practitioners have moved here—or want to. People from other countries who face major health challenges beat a path to our doors for treatment. Health care generates more new job opportunities than any other sector of our economy.

Our blend of privately financed care—with employers playing a leading role—along with government support for the elderly and the poor has managed to insure roughly 85% of our people, with emergency care legally required for everyone else.

However, we must recognize the significant problems in our system, and there are many.

  • Costs. We pay more for health care than any other modern society but don’t get the best results. Unless spiraling costs are brought under control, they will force businesses and individuals to drop coverage, destroy the long-term viability of Medicare and Medicaid, and erode America’s global competitiveness.
  • Medical Mistakes. An estimated 98,000 Americans die annually from preventable medical mistakes—and another 1.5 million are injured—causing pain and heartache while adding unnecessary costs to the system.
  • Medical Liability. Legal redress should be available for the victims of mistakes, but that’s no excuse for all the frivolous liability claims that are driving up prices and driving health care providers out of the profession.
  • Health IT. Our paper-based system of medical records prevents providers from easily coordinating a patient’s care with other providers, sharing needed information, and monitoring compliance with prevention and disease-management programs. This leads to errors, redundant tests, and added costs.
  • Consumer Responsibility. Consumers often don’t understand the impact of their health care decisions and the cost of their treatment. Worse, they frequently don’t take simple steps to take better care of themselves.
  • The Uninsured. There are 10 million to 15 million people in America who can’t afford health insurance. Although that’s nowhere near the 47 million we hear about in the news, it’s still an unacceptably high number.

So how do we build on the positive aspects of our health care system while addressing its significant shortcomings?
Stay tuned next week ...

This article appeared today in the Washington Examiner.

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