The system’s failure: Americans are paying more and getting less

When Americans go to the doctor’s office or hospital, they have been forced to dig deeper and deeper into their wallets to get the care they need. Americans without insurance aren’t the only ones who are struggling. Rising deductibles, premiums and out-of-pocket costs have left insured Americans paying more for their check-ups and prescriptions and getting less. And without real health reform, these problems will only get worse. The status quo is no longer sustainable; the time for reform is now.

The statistics are striking. For families who get their healthcare through their employer, the average deductible has increased 30 percent in two years, to $1,344. If you purchase insurance on your own, the average deductible is twice as high at $2,753.

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In 2004, only one in five people with health insurance through an employer had a copayment of more than $25, but by 2008 the number jumped to one in three. Eighty-four percent of families purchasing coverage from the individual market made copayments of more than $25.

Make no mistake, high healthcare costs affect more than the ability of insured Americans to get the quality healthcare they need, when they need it. High healthcare costs keep wages for working families flat and undermine the very financial stability that is the cornerstone of the American middle class.

Even after paying these escalating costs, the American people aren’t getting what they pay for. High costs aren’t always making us healthier or improving the quality of care we receive. The United States spends more than any other nation on healthcare, but our infant mortality rates are fourth from the bottom when compared to other developed nations. Our nation ranks 24th in life expectancy among developed countries. More than one-third of Americans are obese.

Recent reports on the quality of care from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that the quality varies widely across the country.

Clearly, parts of our health system are broken. But others are world-class, and can become the foundation for a reformed health system.

In America today, there are examples of hospitals and providers who are using new technology, cutting costs and improving the quality of care. I recently traveled to Omaha, Nebraska and toured one of the nation’s first digital hospitals, where I saw first-hand how health information technology can help doctors and patients. Health care systems like Kaiser Permanente in California, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, and Intermountain Healthcare in Utah have lowered costs and improved outcomes for their patients. I have spoken to community health center operators from Ohio, Tennessee and Pennsylvania who have outlined how health information technology has helped them provide better care to their patients and save resources. The potential is there.

Our challenge is spreading these best practices across the entire country. I am confident that we can achieve our goals of reducing costs for families, businesses and government; protecting people’s choice of doctors, hospitals and health plans; and assuring affordable, quality healthcare for all Americans.

But we can’t achieve these goals simply by doing more of the same. The same means American people will continue to pay more for the basic healthcare they need and deserve. And we can’t achieve these goals by more waiting, more talking, and more studies. The American people are tired of paying more for their healthcare and getting less — tired of a system that costs too much and fails to deliver the quality care we deserve. Now, it’s time to make reform a reality.