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Depicting rising costs as the biggest problem facing the U.S. health system, Sen. John McCain used an April 28, 2008, appearance at a Miami children's hospital to lament the huge sums the United States is spending on health care and to call for fiscal restraint.
"We spend a staggering amount of money on health care — over $2-trillion and almost twice as much as any other country per person. Within the decade total health care spending will more than double and consume nearly one out of every five dollars in America," McCain said.
McCain's facts and figures are mostly correct. The nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, citing 2005 data, puts national health spending at just under $2-trillion annually, accounting for 16 percent of the economy. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the government's two big public health programs, projects health spending will be nearly one-fifth of the gross domestic product by 2016.
But McCain is a bit off in saying the United States' per capita spending is almost twice as much as other nations. Though it certainly leads the pack — spending $6,401 per person on health care according to an analysis of 2005 data by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — nations such as Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland each spend more than $4,000 per person. Austria, Iceland, Belgium, France, Canada and Germany also spent more than half of the U.S. figure.
It's worth pointing out that these other nations have some form of universal health insurance in which the government subsidizes the financial risk of getting sick. The fact that the United States has no such mandate, but still spends ever greater sums on health care, speaks in part to inefficiencies and waste within the system.
The United States isn't getting better results for the money; it had the lowest life expectancy — 77.8 years — among the 15 countries that spend the most, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an umbrella group for 30 industrialized nations committed to free market principles. And there are widespread disparities in the quality of care, depending on one's insurance coverage, income, race and ethnicity.
McCain's statement accurately takes stock of the scope of medical inflation and places it in the context of overall national spending. But because he overstates how bad the U.S. problem is in relation to other nations, we rule his statement Half True.
CNNPolitics.com, "McCain Rejects 'Big Government' Takeover of Health Care," April 28, 2008
The Commonwealth Fund, "Envisioning the Future: The 2008 Presidential Candidates' Health Reform Proposals," by S.R. Collins and J.L. Kriss, January 2008
Kaiser Family Foundation, "Health Care Costs, A Primer"
Congressional Budget Office, "The Long-Term Outlook for Health Care Spending," November 2007
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, "Health Data 2007: Statistics and Indicators for 30 Countries"
CQ Weekly, "The Exploding Cost of Medicine's Cutting Edge," by Clea Benson, Feb. 25, 2008
Interview with Mary Mahon, Commonwealth Fund, April 21, 2008
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