We see and hear a lot of reasons presented why we need to adopt a universal healthcare model in the United States.  The most frequently cited is that if we look at other developed nations, they have universal healthcare and spend less of their GDP on healthcare than we do; that if we adopt a model similar to theirs, our healthcare costs will be lowered and the delivery of healthcare will improve.

The Walker Report makes the case using the newly signed stimulus package as a cost comparison:

If we adopt any one of the health care systems used by the dozens of first world nations with universal health care, we would save the equivalent of one stimulus package a year.

The article above even goes so far as opining that if we could only be as efficient as Luxembourg or Finland, our healthcare system would be great…but that might not be an attainable goal, so maybe doing as well as  Germany, France, or Switzerland might be our best goal for now.

One thing I love about the internet is quick access to numbers and statistics.  While GDP serves as one measure, perhaps a better one is actual dollars spent per capita in US dollars?  That way we’re comparing real dollars to real dollars rather than an abstract percentage of gross-domestic-product.

Nation Master is a neat site that lets you define out statistics by category and includes the category “health” for the nations in its database.  When we do a search for across the board “health” and then  “total expenditure in US$” we are returned statistics that reveal that in 2004 (latest data available for all reporting countries) the following was spent, in US-dollars, by each country in the list, sourced from the World Development Indicators Database:

United States:  $6096 per person annually

Luxumborg:  $5904 per person annually

Finland:  $2664.30 per person annually

France:  $3464 per person annually

Germany:  $3521.4 per person annually

Switzerland:  $5571.90 per person annually

I’m left scratching my head about why Luxembourg is considered more efficient when they only spend $194 less per person each year?  I mean Finland is obviously spending less – with only $2664.30 per person each year, that’s $3,431.70 less spent per person each year.

How do they do it?

Well, another interesting statistic can be had on Nation Master – how often a population visits the doctor, and in the United States we average 8.9 consultations with physicians each year per person; in Finland they consult with a doctor just 4.3 times a year per person. 

So in Finland they use their system about half as often as we do across the population, thus spend about half as much as we do.  Interesting.

Are they really “efficient” as Walker Report thinks they are?

If we spend $6096 on average, for each person each year, and they see the doctor 8.9 times on average in a year, then we’re spending an average $684.94 per doctor visit (or whatever encounter you have – ER visit, hospitalization, etc.)….compare this to Finland, spending $2664.30 per year, per person for 4.3 doctor visits each year – or $619.60 per doctor visit…..now it’s only a difference of $65.33 per doctor visit – not significantly different or more efficient than the United States, huh?

Yet we won’t see these numbers in the media, nor will we hear them on the radio – but the numbers and statistics are out there if you want to find them!

No doubt our healthcare system can be improved – but let’s not rely on myths to reform the system. 

We need facts and data to be able to make good decisions, not myths!

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