Monday, August 29, 2011

U.S. Healthcare: Why it’s so expensive

The Tuscon Citizen
Aug. 29, 2011

My primary care physician has three employees to handle phone calls, set appointments, and check in patients. Those are the front desk duties of the office staff, but there is much more:  Checking a person’s insurance coverage to determine the patient’s  co-pay;  Contacting insurance companies to get prior approval for tests and referrals;  Resubmitting documentation to insurance companies that won’t pay  a bill until they get one more piece of paper.  The list goes on and on.

I always figured the way the American health care system works, with dozens of insurance companies requiring different paperwork and paying different fees for services rendered, was inefficient.  But now there is a study that shows just how inefficient and expensive our convoluted system is.

A study published in the Health Affairs Journal says that American doctors pay out more than four times as much as Canadian doctors because American doctors must deal with dozens of insurance companies (and Medicare).

The study surveyed physicians and administrators in Ontario, Canada about time spent interacting with payers, and compared the results with a national companion survey in the United States.

The findings: Physician practices in Ontario spent $22,205 per physician per year interacting with Canada’s single-payer agency—just 27 percent of the $82,975 per physician per year spent in the United States.

More findings: US nursing staff, including medical assistants, spent 20.6 hours per physician per week.interacting with health plans—nearly ten times that of their Ontario counterparts.

Billions could be saved:
The study found that if US physicians had administrative costs similar to those of doctors in Ontario, the total savings would be approximately $27.6 billion per year.

Americans are told they have to pay more for their care, but I haven’t heard any talk about fixing the payment system for health care that is clearly inefficient and expensive. Why hasn’t this issue been addressed? Have the hundreds of insurance companies, each negotiating prices with doctors, kept health care costs from rising each year? The answer is clearly “no”, and the current system is clearly broken. So, before our government pushes more cost onto seniors and working people, why not fix the system?

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