Forget malpractice, defensive medicine and easy access to specialists. Americans pay more for healthcare than citizens of other countries because of higher prices and incomes, according to a study in the July/August issue of Health Affairs. "There is a popular misconception that we pay much more for healthcare in the United States compared to European and other industrialized countries because malpractice claims drive up costs and there are waiting lists in most other countries," said lead author Gerard Anderson of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "But what we have found is that we pay more for healthcare for the simple reason that prices for health services are significantly higher in the United States than they are elsewhere." That includes everything from outpatient prescription drugs to hospital services.
U.S. per capita spending on healthcare was $5,267 in 2002 -- or $1,821 more than the next biggest spender among the 30 nations studied and about 140% higher than the median. There was no evidence that malpractice awards, defensive medicine or easy access to specialty care played major roles. Malpractice awards accounted for $16 in per capita healthcare spending in the U.S. in 2001 compared with $12 in the United Kingdom and $10 in Australia. At the highest estimate, defensive medicine represented nine percentage points of the 140% differential. Also, services that typically have waiting lists in other countries accounted for about 3% of U.S. healthcare spending, the study said. Read the abstract. -- by Michael Romano