Why is Health Care So Expensive?

Health Care CostsThe United States has the dubious distinction of spending more money on health care for every man, woman, and child than any other country in the world. Just check the graph at the right.

And yet we are far from being the healthiest.

Why is it so expensive? We want to be healthy, but our spending doesn’t seem to be getting us there.

Health Care Costs GCPAnd it’s not only the dollar amounts that are rising. The percent of our GDP that is spent on healthcare continues to rise as well.

How much should we spend on health care? That’s not an easy question to answer. And that discussion will continue to give rise to much debate.

Why does it cost so much? That’s easier to answer, even though it’s not simple.

Some of the major factors driving costs are:

  1. Unhealthy lifestyle. Physical inactivity, smoking, unhealthy diet, obesity, addiction – these contribute directly or indirectly to a significant majority of our health problems. This incorporates issues both of personal responsibility and society’s involvement.
  2. Third party payers. Most of the time patients have very little understanding of what their care truly costs. And many doctors have only a slightly better knowledge of costs. The question becomes not, “What does it cost?” but “Is it covered?”
  3. An aging population. In some respects rising health care costs are a result of our success. Improved medical care has been one factor in increasing life span. And as we age, we need more, and more expensive, health care. And yet the US is far from the top among countries where life expectancy is concerned.
  4. Innovation. Research is expensive. New  devices, procedures, drugs, and services are almost always the most expensive.
  5. Patient demand. We all want the fastest, latest, best treatment. And we want it NOW! Waiting is unacceptable.
  6. An entitlement mentality. Somebody else take care of me, and be responsible for my health care, and for paying for it.
  7. Defensive medicine. Mistakes do happen, sometimes with tragic consequences. And doctors often order tests to protect themselves. Hospitals and other health care entities spend a great deal of money on defensive medicine as well.
  8. Greed, fraud, and abuse – by corporations, health care professionals, and patients. This is real, and must be stopped. But it does not rank at the top of the list.

I’ve ranked these roughly in the order I believe they make the biggest contribution to continued rising health care costs. This is not a scientific list, but an educated list based on my view from the inside.

What can YOU do about it? Take responsibility! And here are a few things you can take responsibility for:

  1. Your lifestyle. You may not be able to change everything overnight, but you can start somewhere. And if you need to get some help, get it!
  2. Ask questions. Find out what things cost, not just what you have to pay for them. A good place to start is Healthcare Bluebook.
  3. Vote. And when you vote, don’t only think about getting more services from the government for yourself. Think about principles such as freedom, responsibility, and integrity.

The solutions to health care will be debated for a long time to come. The answer is not giving power to a central authority to regulate our lives, our health, and our health care. The answers can only come from more and more of us taking personal responsibility for our health, and helping others to do the same.

Your turn: What do you believe are the top factors driving health care costs? What are you trying to do about it for yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

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