Our Failed Health-care System

Posted on September 10, 2008  Comments (1)

The bad idea behind our failed health-care system by Malcolm Gladwell

One of the great mysteries of political life in the United States is why Americans are so devoted to their health-care system.

Americans spend $5,267 per capita on health care every year, almost two and half times the industrialized world’s median of $2,193; the extra spending comes to hundreds of billions of dollars a year. What does that extra spending buy us? Americans have fewer doctors per capita than most Western countries. We go to the doctor less than people in other Western countries. We get admitted to the hospital less frequently than people in other Western countries. We are less satisfied with our health care than our counterparts in other countries. American life expectancy is lower than the Western average.

Health Savings Accounts represent the final, irrevocable step in the actuarial direction. If you are preoccupied with moral hazard, then you want people to pay for care with their own money, and, when you do that, the sick inevitably end up paying more than the healthy. And when you make people choose an insurance plan that fits their individual needs, those with significant medical problems will choose expensive health plans that cover lots of things, while those with few health problems will choose cheaper, bare-bones plans.

In the rest of the industrialized world, it is assumed that the more equally and widely the burdens of illness are shared, the better off the population as a whole is likely to be. The reason the United States has forty-five million people without coverage is that its health-care policy is in the hands of people who disagree, and who regard health insurance not as the solution but as the problem.

This is another article with an interesting take on the problems with the broken health care system in the USA. I don’t totally agree with the conclusion. I think the failure of the system and refusal to make substantial change have multiple causes including: smart lobbyists paying politicians lots of money to support their interest in keeping the current system, people being fearful about change, false perceptions about the system performance (thankfully an understanding of the poor performance is becoming more widespread recently), that the system works least poorly for the wealthy who have more influence than those without insurance, that the benefits of spending huge amounts today are going to specific companies and people and thus are available for buying political support (not just paying politicians but also funding marketing campaigns, experts to provide journalists the position of those in favor of the existing system…) while the benefits of changing are much more distributed. Luckily companies are increasingly – decades after Deming noted this health care costs are a huge problem for companies in the USA – focusing on the need for improving what is often one of the largest expenses for companies. The issue many fail to understand is how much the excessive costs of health care in the USA harm the ability of companies in the USA to compete – many even fail to appreciate the human cost of tens of millions of people without health insurance.

Related: Drug Prices in the USAMeasuring the Health of NationsOverview of 5 Nations Health Care SystemsFixing Health CareImproving the Health Care System

One Response to “Our Failed Health-care System”

  1. Applying Disruptive Thinking to the Healthcare Crisis » Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog
    June 23rd, 2013 @ 1:05 am

    He makes the case that improving the health care system should be done by applying the ideas of disruptive innovation because the current model is not likely to break the old ways of thinking…

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