Move to Argentina. Seriously.
To show how astoundingly high our medical prices are compared to other first-world countries, WaPo put together a string of graphs. (Hint: The US average is the middle number)
[Many more here]
The US is shown as a range because unlike other countries, the prices paid here can vary wildly.
It's hard not to notice which two countries bookend the field. And to spot a singular problem with our system. While you can argue our health care is more advanced, why does that make the same prescription price so much higher here? The pills are identical.
There are two strategies emerging for dealing with this problem, and they don't overlap much. First, is the idea more free market action at the consumer level will empower them to bargain with medical providers. The second is using a matching large force - Medicare to face up to providers.
There is a sense in which the fundamental health-cost theories of Republicans and Democrats have become perfectly contradictory. Republicans believe Medicare is the singular problem contributing to the relentless growth in health-care costs, and the only way to truly fix our health-care system is to turn Medicare into a voucher system, breaking it up among private and public options and letting competition work its will.There is some evidence Medicare-like programs can reduce costs by lowering payments. One reason other countries have lower costs are the single payer power of their health systems.
Democrats look at the lower prices paid in single-payer countries as well as the lower prices paid by Medicare in this country and come away with a very different conclusion: We could be paying much less and getting much more, but the insurance industry, at the moment, doesn’t have enough power via-a-vis hospitals and other providers.
Medicare, as the nation’s largest payer, is thus the most promising solution to health-care costs, and Medicare should be using its bargaining power to lead the private market — in particular, by persuading hospitals and other providers to make overdue, but difficult, reforms to how they deliver care.
One ongoing example is electronic health records, which were long resisted by providers, but are coming into wide use now not just because the federal government helped providers pay for them, but because Medicare is going to start docking the pay of providers who don’t use them.
Therefore, for Democrats, breaking Medicare up into a mass of competing insurers removes one of the most powerful levers available for controlling health costs. “Medicare has enormous financial leverage to drive changes in medical practice,” Sebelius said. It’s not just that they think premium support won’t work. It’s that they think it would be actively harmful to the cause of cost control, and to do it right now, when medical costs are falling and the Affordable Care Act and all its Medicare-connected cost controls is just going into full effect, would be perverse. [More]
Personally, I don't see much evidence individuals will bargain effectively with hospitals, etc. given the responsibility to do so. When I have done that and talked about it, people around me were horrified at my impudence. "How can you put a price on health?" they gasp. Well, we do it all the time, only we're not the ones with much say in the number. Perhaps if it really comes out of our pockets we might shop around, but generally we're not in much condition, mentally or physically, to engage in commercial tactics.
Health care is not your usual consumer good, and I'm not sure applying the usual retail economics will take us to a place we want to be.