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U.S. Healthcare System Can Learn From Europe, Experts Say


The American health care system, which spends more per person than any other industrialized nation but often reaps fewer rewards, should look toward European models for improvement, a panel of experts said at a Fordham-sponsored forum on March 12.

Speaking at “Changing Health Care 2008: Lessons from Abroad,” panelists compared expenditures and outcomes in Germany, France, the Netherlands and elsewhere with the United States. The U.S. spends more than $6,400 per person annually—16 percent of its gross domestic product—on health care. By comparison, the next-highest nation is France at $3,400 per person.

“It really was the conventional wisdom that America has the best health care system in the world, but looking across the tables shows another story,” said Robin Osborn, vice president and director of The Commonwealth Fund’s International Program in Health Policy and Practice. “We spend more on hospital stays, more on doctors and more on drugs. We simply pay a lot more.”

Citing from the fund’s international survey of patients, Osborn noted that the U.S. falls behind in provider performance in many areas, including the number of medical/lab mistakes, implementation of electronic records, treatment of chronic conditions, access to doctors and the fragmentation of medical care due to switching physicians.

“No country is perfect, but we are not getting our value,” she said.

Katharina Janus, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, said that the German system, which spends $3,200 per person, prides itself on being based on the ethical principal of “solidarity,” offering the same services to everyone for approximately the same cost. Germany has a social health insurance system and less than .5 percent of the population is uninsured, she said. Such a system, she said, might be a way to improve health care in the United States.

The forum was sponsored by the Graduate School of Social Service’s Institute for Women & Girls, the Women’s City Club of New York, the New York Medical College School of Public Health, the Public Health Association of New York City and Rekindling Reform.


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