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The U.S. spends nearly $4 trillion on health care, but inequities still exist. Here’s why.

The U.S. spends nearly $4 trillion on health care, yet inequities in care continue to persist. With 30 million Americans uninsured during the pandemic, is universal health care the answer? William Brangham explores the matter in our new documentary, "Critical Care: America vs. The World." He joins Judy Woodruff to preview and discuss the special.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We want to remind you about a special "NewsHour" documentary that is airing tonight on PBS.

    It is called "Critical Care: America vs. the World," produced by Jason Kane and hosted by William Brangham.

    Let's take a look.

  • Woman:

    Let me feel underneath your arm.

  • William Brangham:

    It's a uniquely American problem. The richest country in the world leaves tens of millions with no health insurance.

  • Woman:

    It makes me feel that we don't matter.

  • Man:

    The thing about surgical theater…

  • William Brangham:

    A country with such remarkable innovation…

  • Woman:

    They don't know a discharge date.

  • William Brangham:

    … and yet so many are struggling.

  • Woman:

    Every one of us can name someone we saw suffer to death.

  • Woman:

    You know the deck's stacked against you.

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    This is America's day.

  • William Brangham:

    As a new administration takes over, promising reform, we travel to four very similar nations with four very different health systems for clues.

  • Dr. Ashish Jha:

    I love how open and explicit they are about the fact that there are always choices.

  • William Brangham:

    How do they care for virtually everyone, and do it for less money?

  • Man:

    No one says, well, that's going to cost too much, so we're not going to do it.

  • Man:

    Here, it's a bit more humane. It's like, look, there's a basic level of care that people deserve. It costs, but you still deserve it.

  • William Brangham:

    And amid a pandemic, does universal coverage help save lives?

  • Woman:

    If you require an ICU stay, if you need to be intubated and ventilated, all of those things are covered under the public system.

  • William Brangham:

    We have a problem. What lessons can we learn from abroad? "Critical Care: America vs. the World."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And William joins me now.

    William, so pleased that this special is going to be airing.

    One of the things you report is that the United States spends roughly, what, two times what other wealthy nations spend on health care, but we often don't get the outcomes that they do.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Judy. That gap that you're describing was really the genesis of this entire documentary.

    We spend so much money — I think it's almost $3.8 trillion every year — on health care, and yet we have these incredible inequities. We have amazing innovation, as we're seeing, but also 30 million people uninsured in the middle of a pandemic.

    So, we wanted to look at, why do those inequities exist, what might we do about them, but then also look at how there are so many examples of other nations, wealthy nations around the world that have solved this problem. They cover everybody, they do it for less money, and they get better health outcomes than we do.

    And so the question is, how do they do that? How do they go about it? How do they fund it? What are the pitfalls of those systems? And so we go to four different countries.

    And what we're trying to figure out is, what lessons we might learn that we could help policy-makers here understand?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, William, you started filming this before the pandemic broke out, and what it did was, it exposed the disparities you were looking at in a way that we hadn't seen before.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right.

    We began filming this back when there was this debate in the Democratic presidential primary about how we're going to fix this issue in this country, but then the pandemic breaks out and we're visiting all these countries. And so the question comes, how does a universal health care system help you, if in any way, during a pandemic?

    And the answer to that is mixed. I mean, you could look at certain countries, like the United Kingdom, for example, with its single-payer system. They did quite badly during the pandemic, a lot of cases, a lot of deaths. We went to Canada to look at their response to the pandemic, and, in many ways, they did a lot better than we did.

    I mean, if you had symptoms, you could easily get a test. If you got sick and needed to go to the hospital, that was all covered, you didn't have to worry about those bills.

    So there are these lessons that can be learned, but the end result is that a universal health care system is a sufficient — it's a useful tool, but it is not sufficient for fighting a pandemic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The special is titled "Critical Care," airing tonight on PBS.

    We are so much looking forward.

    William Brangham, thank you.

  • William Brangham:

    Thank you, Judy.

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