What the U.S. Health Care System Can Learn from Other Countries

WASHINGTON, March 11 – A Senate panel chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) heard today that other major countries offer better health care at less cost than the United States.

“What this hearing is really about is two fundamental issues. First, the U.S., the wealthiest country on the planet, is the only major industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee health care as a right to its citizens. Should we consider joining the rest of the world? I’d argue we should,” Sanders said. “Second, the U.S. spends twice as much as other countries that have much better health outcomes. What can we learn from these countries?” asked Sanders, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging.

Citing World Health Organization data, Sanders said the U.S. spends as much as three times more on health care than other industrialized countries. Health care outlays in the U.S. account for about 18 percent of our Gross Domestic Product, significantly more than in France, Germany, Denmark, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Norway, Taiwan and Israel.

In Denmark, “all citizens have access to care; no one may be denied services on the basis of income, age, health or employment status,” according to Jakob Kjellberg, an economist from Copenhagen. Victor Rodwin, an expert on the French health care system, said “the French have easy access to primary health care, as well as specialty services, at half the per capita costs of what we spend in the U.S.”

Other witnesses said the money Americans sink into their expensive health care system does not buy better care. “Canada achieved health outcomes that are at least equal to those in the U.S. at two-thirds the cost,” according to one witness at the hearing, Dr. Danielle Martin of Women's College Hospital in Toronto.

The United States ranks 26th in life expectancy compared to other countries ranked by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. People who live in Italy, Spain, France, Australia, Israel, Norway and other countries live 2 to 3 years longer than Americans.

The Affordable Care Act has improved access to insurance, but millions of Americans still lack insurance or have plans with such high deductibles and copayments that they cannot afford the care they need. As a result, some 45,000 uninsured Americans die each year because they didn’t go to a doctor in time.

A major factor driving up health care costs in the U.S. is the high cost of prescription drugs. Hospital stays also cost more. While hospitals in Germany and France charge $3,000 for an appendectomy, for example, the average price for the same procedure in American hospitals is $13,000. Some U.S. hospitals charge $28,000.

“It is time for the U.S. to join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee access to health care as a right of all people, not just a privilege for those who can afford it,” Sanders said.