Report: Pricing, technology to blame for high U.S. healthcare costs

High prices and technology costs are what are driving skyrocketing healthcare costs in the U.S., not high utilization rates, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Fund.

One major factor is the over-use of expensive testing, imaging and other technologies--compared to other countries like Norway, Japan and Germany, the report states. The U.S. uses far more MRIs, CT scans, PET scans and mammograms.

What's more, those tests are far more expensive in the U.S. than in other countries. For example, an MRI costs about $1,080 in the U.S., versus $299 in France and $599 in Germany, the report reveals.

"This combination of pervasive medical technology and high prices show­cases two potent drivers of U.S. health spending, and a possible explanation for the outsized share of resources we dedicate to health care relative to the rest of the world," the authors say.

One item that isn't driving healthcare costs, however, is higher use of services, the report says. The U.S. has the lowest physician visit rates (3.9 per capita), among the shortest hospital lengths of stay, and some of the lowest hospital discharge rates (per thousand) of any of the countries studied in the report.

"It is a common assumption that Americans get more healthcare services than people in other countries, but in fact we do not go to the doctor or the hospital as often," report author David Squires says, according to Healthcare IT News. "The higher prices we pay for healthcare and perhaps our greater use of expensive technology are the more likely explanations for high health spending in the U.S."

And despite using more expensive technology, and having higher prices for many services, the U.S. doesn't necessarily have higher quality care, according to the report. The U.S. spent nearly $8,000 per person in 2009 on healthcare services, but other countries like Japan spend less than $2,500 per person, the report notes. The U.S. has top survival rates for breast and colorectal cancer, but also has the highest mortality rates for conditions such as asthma and diabetes. Also, mortality rates from heart attack and stroke aren't any better than other countries studied.

To learn more:
- read the Commonwealth Fund report (.pdf)
- here's the Healthcare IT News story

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