Best health care system? Really, John Boehner?


House Speaker John Boehner trashed president Obama’s health care plan again Thursday, accusing him of wrecking the world’s best health care system.

“This is going to destroy the best health care delivery system in the world,” Boehner said Thursday morning before President Obama announced a plan to fix the fallout over canceled health insurance policies.

But is it really? 

Two studies out this week — and studies going back 15 years or longer — show quite the opposite. Americans pay more per capita for health care than people in any other industrialized country. In return, we are sicker, die younger and are unhappier with the system.

The Commonwealth Fund, which does research on health care and health reform, has shown year after year in its regular surveys that Americans spend a lot more on health care than anyone else. Right now it’s $2.7 trillion a year — that’s $8,508 a head, compared to $5,669 per person in Norway and $5,643 in Switzerland, the next-highest-spending countries. New Zealanders spend just $3,182 per person.

And Americans aren't getting more or better care for that money. The U.S. has the eighth-lowest life expectancy in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which groups developed nations.

In the latest survey of more than 20,000 people from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain and the U.S., Commonwealth researchers found that 37 percent of Americans went without recommended care, did not see a doctor when sick, or failed to fill prescriptions because of costs, compared to as few as 4 percent to 6 percent in Britain and Sweden.

And 23 percent of U.S. adults either had serious problems paying medical bills or were unable to pay them, compared to fewer than 13 percent of adults in France and 6 percent or fewer in Britain, Sweden, and Norway, Commonwealth reported Wednesday in the journal Health Affairs.

More than 40 percent of U.S. adults said they spent $1,000 or more out-of-pocket for care in the past year, by far the highest rate of any country surveyed.

Most — 75 percent —of the 2,000 or so U.S. adults surveyed said the health system needs fundamental changes or to be rebuilt. Just half of Dutch and Swedish people did, while 63 percent of Britons said their system works well and only needs minor changes.

“The U.S. spends more on health care than any other country, but what we get for these significant resources falls short in terms of access to care, affordability, and quality,” said Dr. David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund,

Americans also wait longer to see primary care doctors; 76 percent in Germany said they could get a same or next-day appointment, and 63 percent in the Netherlands, compared to 48 percent in the U.S. Only Canada scored worse, with 41 percent saying they could.

And the U.S. has more patients than anywhere else using the emergency room. A full 48 percent of Americans said they had used the ER in the past two years, compared to 31 percent in France and 22 percent in Germany and Australia.

Even the U.S. Institute of Medicine says U.S. health care is a mess, with tens of thousands of Americans dying from medical errors and drug overdoses, and with the system wasting $750 billion in 2009. 

And on Tuesday, a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at improvements in the U.S. health care system. The upshot? They’re not really keeping up with the rest of the world. 

U.S. life expectancy is getting longer, but it’s lagging behind the longer lifespans enjoyed by people in most of western Europe and Japan. And there are huge disparities across the country, with people in states like Mississippi considerably less healthy than people in Colorado or New York City.