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The Rise of U.S. Health Care Consumers: Lessons from Abroad

January 5, 2013 in health care costs, Health Insurance, International Health Care, Medical Care, Quality of care

Can you imagine buying gas from a station with no signs to let you know the prices? Or having the clerk at a clothing store pick the “right” jeans for you, with no opportunity to figure out for yourself which ones fit best? In a sense, this is how Americans buy something far more important: health care.

Economists and policy makers have long emphasized the challenges in treating health care as a consumer good. Supply generally drives demand; there is little correlation between cost and quality; and end users have neither visibility into costs, nor much incentive to find out. Lack of price transparency makes it nearly impossible to find health care cost information even for someone motivated to look for it. Consumers also have little basis for evaluating quality; often the data that is available is dense and hard to interpret. In other words, most Americans do not have the practice or capacity, let alone the information they would need, to make informed health care decisions.

But it does not need to stay this way – and, indeed, it cannot if health care reform is to succeed. Under the Affordable Care Act, 12 million consumers are expected to purchase their own health insurance via a health insurance exchange by 2014, growing to 28 million in 2019. Americans, including lower-income individuals qualifying for subsidized health insurance, will have new health plan choices, and new means of comparison shopping. Even without reform, health insurers are designing and employers are increasingly offering products that shift costs and choices to the consumer.

Remarkably, as a nation and a health care industry, we have not prepared our population for the increased responsibility and decision-making power they will soon assume. Yet there are places around the world that have a lot to teach us in this arena, and they’re not necessarily the ones you might guess – or the ones health economists tend to focus on. Read the rest of this entry →

Hospital cost infographics

October 19, 2012 in health care costs, Hospital Bills, International Health Care

We already know about spiraling health care costs, but more information doesn’t hurt.  Here is a comparison with other industrialized countries.  The data is from a group affiliated with GWU’s School of Media and Public Affairs.  The direct link is here. A shorter summary is here.

Woah – stunningly blunt cigarette warning

July 23, 2012 in International Health Care, Member Stories

I’ve admittedly not paid that much attention to the controversy about graphic pictures and warnings that the FDA wants to require on cigarette packages as of September.

So when I saw someone in London pull out a pack of cigarettes a few days ago I was stunned. The UK, Portugal and several other EU countries now print blunt warnings like this one, Smoking Kills, on the front and grim pictures on the back of cigarette packages.  The warnings show some signs of success in the UK, mostly with new smokers, but are less effective in India. The UK is considering using the warning/graphic pictures strategy to curb excessive drinking.

In the US, a court challenge to the FDA warning requirement is pending.


Cool stuff on Pinterest

March 8, 2012 in International Health Care, Member Stories

Hey Savvies – wondering if anyone is posting to Pinterest. If you are, put the links to some of your pins here. I got this from the health care infographics page.

A painful reminder – we spend more but don’t live as long

December 12, 2011 in International Health Care

In the US, we spend more on health care than any other country in the world. The latest report from the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Health Care at a Glance 2011 confirms the disturbing facts.

This chart confirms that we, in the US, don’t have a lot to show for all this extra spending.

And the picture isn’t getting any better. Costs in the US continue to rise faster than anywhere else.

Why do we put up with this?