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The real health care spending problem

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one: For better health care we need to get out of the country.

And when I say better health care, I mean cheaper health care. Or really, I mean both those things since we Americans often pay more than everyone else for the same thing.

Some disturbing information is highlighted in an annual report, out today, from the International Federation of Health Plans. It looks at health care price variations across the globe, while offering insight into one of the greatest, age-old debates. Why do we spend so much on health care? Here’s their answer. Ready? Our prices are too high. (Prices! who would have thought of that one?)

Some examples:

An average one-day hospital stay in the United States cost a whopping $4,293 last year, six times more than it did in Argentina and nearly 10 times the cost in Spain.

An MRI? That’s (on average) $1,145 in the United States. In Switzerland, it’s $138.

Delivering a baby? $6,623 in Australia; $10,002 in the States.

An abdominal CT scan is nearly $900 here. Want it for $800 less? Go to Canada.

Here’s where you might counter with, “Who cares? You want cheaper prices? Go to Canada, then!” Health care in the United States — and everything else — is far superior (the prevailing wisdom suggests), and they’ll pay more here rather than suffer through medical procedures in Europe.

But can we talk about prescriptions — from specialty drugs to those treating common ailments? Cause it’s a lot more expensive here, too. And you can’t argue that’s different from country to country.

A Nexium prescription, for example, one of the most popular prescriptions out there that treats acid reflux disease, is $215. In England, Nexium costs $42; in the Netherlands, $23.

Just a reminder: Nexium in the United States is the same as Nexium in the Netherlands. So why do we have to pay 10 times more for a small, purple pill just cause we’re American?

Well, for one, we’re not negotiators. While other countries negotiate with hospitals and drug manufacturers, we just take it. Though carriers, of course, do some of it, we’re not getting the kind of discount other countries do. And from the looks of the information in the report, we’re getting ripped off. It’s no wonder medical expenses are the No. 1 reason for bankruptcies in this country.

Don’t tell me it’s not in our nature: I’ve witnessed people haggle over a quarter at a garage sale, for God’s sake.

Overall, says Tom Sackville, chief executive of the International Federation of Health Plans, the “price variations bear no relation to health outcomes. They merely demonstrate the relative ability of providers to profiteer at the expense of patients, and in some cases reflect a damaging degree of market failure.”

The research also dismisses the popular notion that Americans spend more because we use more. In reality, the report finds that we go to the doctor less and have fewer hospitals per capita than most European countries.

Really, it’s a wonder we don’t have to go to the hospital or doctor more often. Cause having to overpay for things — and I mean really overpay — can really make a person sick.

For more from Kathryn Mayer, see: