Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Johns Hopkins Study Says U.S. Health Care Is Expensive and Deficient

A Johns Hopkins University study has concluded that the high cost of U.S. health care is simply from higher prices rather than from litigation costs (see here). The study found that per capita medical litigation costs in 2001 were $16, while per capital overall medical costs in 2002 were $5440.

The study also found that U.S. health spending accounted for a greater percentage of GDP than almost any other country, but that for all that expense Americans have less access to some services. The study also beat on the class distinction drum, stating that higher income patients have better access than lower income patients in every area measured, while other developed countries have far less class disparity.

I did some searching, but was unable to discover who funded this study and the basic methodology for the study. I can’t get out of my head the warning of my undergrad statistics professor telling the class that any statistic you see or hear is worthless until you understand how the data were produced.

While the study found the direct cost of medical litigation to be relatively minimal, it appears to completely ignore the indirect costs of medical litigation. How much do we spend on unnecessary tests and procedures so that medical practitioners and organizations can cover their tails to avoid litigation? How is the quality of our care affected by these CYA practices?

I really choke on the conclusion that the U.S. has longer wait times for physician appointments and less access to hospital beds. My experiences with universal health care in Norway and Germany were that you could go to the doctor any time you wanted, but that you’d better pack a lunch. You could wait six or seven hours. You could also go to the hospital, but unless it was an extreme emergency, you’d better be prepared to wait two to three months to be admitted.

If I really want to see a doctor, I can see one today. The longest I have ever had to wait is 90 minutes, and I thought that was very bad. I have seen many people here (myself included) admitted to the hospital the same or the next day for non-emergency conditions. Perhaps health care is better in northern Utah than other places in the U.S., but is it really so much better that the rest of the U.S. lags behind Norway and Germany in these measures? I wonder where Johns Hopkins got its data?

Moreover, this whole study flies in the face of an article by Johns Hopkins University President William R. Brody published last year in the Washington Post. Brody explores the current medical tort system and rips it to shreds.

Something is fishy here. I wonder why it is so difficult to discover who funded this study and how the data were gathered. I wonder why the study seeks to refute recent bold statements by the university’s president. I think this study should be held at arms length until the public can figure out how the study was done and who funded it.

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