This article on hip replacement costs and the experiences of a medical tourist in Belgium highlights any number of issues. Yet most readers would yawn at the obvious – that we pay in the US multiples more for equal or lower health outcomes. The story describes a patient who was quoted a price of $78,000, NOT including surgeons fees for a hip replacement from a local US hospital. The patient was able to receive the same operation INCLUDING round trip air, for $13,660 at a private hospital in Belgium, including the surgeon’s fee. And the hip joint was made by the same US company that sells the device in the US for more than the cost of the entire procedure in Belgium.
Interest groups and politics (including partisan bickering), lack of courage at confronting and tackling the matter, government indifference, and lack of economic skin in the game by patients mean we all get less for more. Government interference is decried by many, but it seems to work in the case of Belgium and others in Europe and elsewhere that regulate the medical market. The alternatives in settings like the US where healthcare is largely regarded as “free” by those who receive it has resulted in what we in America experience. We patients pay little more than a copay or deductible with the rest covered by private or government insurance. We have no incentive to shop, price compare and demand price transparency. But the cost borne by government and private payers is very real and the billions of dollars in excess GDP means that these funds are not available for other productive uses.
If cars, electronics or food were five times the price in the US than Europe, regardless of the logic, there would be a grey market and a hue and cry by those individuals footing the bills. Where is the outrage at the metrics described in this article? It is inconvenient and in the case of emergent situations, impossible to get on a plane and travel abroad for much cheaper care. And the patient who has no economic driver to do so has little reason to consider it.
In the end, we all pay via lower salaries, higher taxes, or both – fueling a bloated health care system enabled by indifference and ignorance.