Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs
Comparing Medical Costs and Results
Health insurance costs
August 28, 2009

The documentary MONEY-DRIVEN MEDICINE details the American "medical-industrial complex" that makes U.S. healthcare the most expensive in the industrialized world. As THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS noted in an August 23, 2009 round-up of non-partisan studies headlined Expensive Without the Results: "The U.S. health care delivery system is by far the costliest on the planet, but comparison studies consistently show Americans get second-rate results by nearly every benchmark."

Health Care Benchmarks

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's "Health at a Glance 2007" round-up details some of these statistics in easy-to-read graphs:
  • Premature Mortality: In potential years of life lost the U.S. ranks next to last, ahead only of Hungary.
  • Infant Mortality: "The rate at which babies of less than one year of age die, reflects the effect of economic and social conditions on the health of mothers and newborns as well as the effectiveness of health systems." The U.S. ranks fourth highest in infant mortality rates.
  • Health expenditure per capita: The U.S. spends triple the OECD average on health care per person.
  • Health expenditure in relation to gross domestic product (GDP): The U.S. also spends far more of its GDP than any other country on both public and private health care.
Researchers Ellen Nolte and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that the U.S. is falling even further behind in preventable deaths. The researchers tracked deaths they deemed preventable by access to timely and effective health care in 1997 and 1998 and 2000 and 2003. The U.S. dropped to last among the 19 industrialized nations studied. The research estimates that if the U.S. health care system performed as well as those of those top three countries (France, Japan and Australia), there would be 101,000 fewer deaths in the United States per year.

A report by the Commonwealth Fund also ranks the U.S. highest in total cost of care and last among industrialized countries "in preventing deaths through use of timely and effective medical care." In a recent FRONTLINE report comparing the health care systems of five other capitalist democracies, "Sick Around the World," WASHINGTON POST reporter T.R. Reid notes that, "The World Health Organization says the U.S. health care system rates 37th in the world in terms of quality and fairness. All the other rich countries do better than we do, and yet they spend a heck of a lot less."

>>Read T.R. Reid's "5 Myths About Health Care Around the World," THE WASHINGTON POST, August 23, 2009.

>>Watch "Sick Around the World" to see how five other countries provide health care.
Related Media:
Medical practitionersWendell Potter
With almost 20 years inside the health insurance industry, Wendell Potter saw private insurers hijack our health care system and put profits before patients. Now, he speaks with Bill Moyers about how those companies are standing in the way of health care reform. (July 10, 2009)

Rachel CarsonFRONTLINE: "Sick Around the World"
FRONTLINE travels to five other wealthy capitalist democracies — Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, and Switzerland — to find out how they provide health care to all of their citizens at a fraction of the cost of the U.S. system.

Medical practitionersMarcia Angell and Trudy Lieberman
Bill Moyers sits down with Trudy Lieberman, director of the health and medical reporting program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and Marcia Angell, senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School and former editor in chief of the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE. (July 24, 2009)

Medical practitionersRobert Reich
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich talks with Bill Moyers about the influence of lobbyists on policy, the economy, and the ongoing debate over health care. (June 12, 2009)

Medical practitionersReforming Health Care
Washington's abuzz about health care, but why isn't a single-payer plan an option on the table? Public Citizen's Dr. Sidney Wolfe and Physicians for a National Health Program's Dr. David Himmelstein on the political and logistical feasibility of health care reform. (May 22, 2009)

References and Reading:
Cato Institute: Universal Health Care
The libertarian Cato Institute favors free-market health care reforms and is skeptical that other nations' health care programs are better than the United States'. Michael Tanner, Cato's director of health and welfare studies, argues that other countries' health care programs "demonstrate the failure of centralized command and control and the benefits of increasing consumer incentives and choice." And economist Glen Whitman takes issue with the World Health Organization's low ranking of the U.S. health care system.

Commonwealth Fund
The Commonwealth Fund is "a private foundation working toward a high performance health system." To that end, the group established a commission in 2005 to study U.S. health care reform. Read the commission's initial report and its National Scorecard on U.S. Health System Performance, on which the United States scored a 66 out of a possible 100. The fund's site also features an interactive Web feature exploring various options for fixing the U.S. health care system, and a state-by-state health care scorecard.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
The Kaiser Family Foundation is the starting point for in-depth research on health and health care in the United States. Among their recent studies are a video on rising health care pressures due to recession and a "fast fact finder" on requiring health insurance companies to cover all applicants regardless of pre-existing conditions.

Side-by-side comparison of the major health care reform proposals.
Assembled and frequently updated by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
The Paris-based OECD publishes international statistics on a variety of economic issues, including health policy. In Health at a Glance 2007, it collects data on a wide range of health care indicators from its 30 member nations. From that data the OECD also publishes reports on individual countries, including this précis on the United States (PDF file).

World Health Organization (WHO)
Part of the United Nations, the WHO's World Health Report ranked the U.S. health care system 37th in the world in 2000. The WHO has not revisited those rankings since then, but it maintains the WHOSIS online database of international health statistics and publishes an annual World Health Statistics Report.

Following the Money: Health Care
Use this BILL MOYERS JOURNAL guide to trace campaign contributions, ad spending and the revolving door between industry and government.

The Health Care Reform Plans
Use this BILL MOYERS JOURNAL guide to follow the debate over the many different health care plans.
Also This Week:
The film reveals how a profit-hungry "medical-industrial complex" has turned health care into a system where millions are squandered on unnecessary tests, unproven and sometimes unwanted procedures and overpriced prescription drugs.

Data shows that the U.S. spends more on health care than any other industrialized nation — and gets less. Why?

Eplore the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice's atlas that documents "glaring variations in how medical resources are distributed and used in the United States."

Pose your questions about health care reform to writer and health care system expert Maggie Mahar on the MOYERS BLOG.

Complete coverage of health care on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.
For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ