The United States Health Care System - How do we compare and what's next?

March 16, 2017 | Nataliya Boychenko

Nataliya Boychenko, MBA, CEBS | Employee Benefit Consultant/Shareholder | Holmes Murphy and Associates

When I’m asked to speak on the topic of United States health care and what the future holds, I think of the quote by a famous playwright, George Bernard Shaw: “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” Hopefully this will help us start the discussion on a lighter note!

Growing up in Ukraine and having the perspective of experiencing medical care in one of the former Soviet Union countries, I always find interest in data that compares the United States health care system to those of other high-income counties, especially as we compete against those countries on the international marketplace and look for system changes through legislation.

One of the studies I’d like to bring to your attention is the one conducted by the Commonwealth Fund. It compares the United States health care system to 13 other high-income countries in cost of care, as well as the outcomes of care. The United States system is the only system among the other countries that doesn’t have universal health care. What we did confirm through the study is the United States has the highest spending at 17.1 percent of its domestic product on health care. This number was almost 50 percent more compared to the next highest spender — France at 11.6 percent of GDP — and almost double what was spent in the UK — 8.8 percent of GDP. The cost statistics usually don’t surprise people, but the outcomes do. Despite the heavy investment in health care, the United States doesn’t rank the highest on some of the health outcomes measures, such as life expectancy and the prevalence of chronic conditions.

Statistics are statistics, and most of us could theorize statistics could be altered and manipulated. The one statistic we know doesn’t lie is the growth of diabetes and disease in general in the Unites States. All employers feel the cost increases on their premium spent as well as the performance of the employees.

Two of the most frequent questions I get from employers are:

  • How do we manage the health care cost in the future?
  • How do we make the complex system simpler?

What we know today is the status quo will not be the solution for the future. Those employers with the creative desire to make an impact and behavioral change with their employees will benefit the most on the cost basis. I believe one of the most important actions you could take is to align your employee benefit plan mission and vision with those of your organization. This will help you get your decision-making team on the same page, as well as help with long-term strategy planning for the benefit plan. Making decisions from one year to the next will not be a sustainable solution for the future, and we’ll want to approach the benefits offered strategically.

How do we make the system simpler? Employee education and engagement will continue to be one of the most important enhancements you could bring to the table. When what your organization spends on benefits is next to the highest line item on your balance sheet, you definitely want to ensure you’re taking advantage and considering all the cutting-edge employee communication methods you have. And don’t forget to take into consideration we have some of the most diverse population demographics in the history.

What’s next on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) Repeal and Replace agenda? There’s still much uncertainty as to what will be the final version of the law, but we’re all poised for the outcome. I’d encourage you to pay attention to the changes and challenge you to understand how those changes will impact not just your business but also the future generations in our country and business competition internationally.

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