Senators Mull Whether U.S. Can Learn From Health Systems Abroad

By:  Kerry Young

With Democrats and Republicans already sharply divided on the implementation of the health law, Sen. Bernie Sanders tried Tuesday to revive debate about whether there would be benefit to involving the federal government more deeply in the nation’s medical system.

The Vermont Independent highlighted at a hearing how the United States spends more on health care than many other nations that have more extensive government involvement in their medical systems, but doesn’t seem to achieve better results than they do.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development last year reported that health spending accounted for about 18 percent of the United States’ economy, or gross domestic product, in 2011. The average for other affluent nations in the OECD was 9.3 percent, and 12 percent for France and about 11 percent for Germany and Canada, where the government plays a greater role in the health system.

“In terms of our health care outcomes, we do not do particularly well compared to other countries,” said Sanders at a hearing of his Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee, the primary health and aging panel.

“Among OECD countries, the United States ranks 26th in terms of life expectancy,” Sanders said, citing an example of an outcome. “Residents of Italy, Spain, France, Australia, Israel, Norway — the list goes on — will live two to three years longer than Americans.”

There’s little chance Congress will approve expanding government’s role in health care delivery. Sanders’ Republican colleagues used the hearing to bring forward complaints about the current system, including the rollout of the exchanges created by the overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152). Their arguments centered on the theme that greater government control of health spending would lead to limits on treatments.

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