An article in today’s Business Week (The Doc’s In, but It’ll Be a While) examines the issue of waiting times for health care in the US.
One of the most repeated truisms about the U.S. health-care system is that, for all its other problems, American patients at least don’t have to endure the long waits for medical care that are considered endemic under single-payer systems… But… waiting times in the U.S. are often as bad or worse as those in other industrialized nations… In addition, 48 million people without insurance do not have ready access to the system.
The article’s author, Cathy Arnst, interviewed me for the story. She’d seen a commentary I’d written about a well-insured patient who had to wait for care, and I let her know about some data sources to back up the anecdotes.
Changing demographics are only worsening the problem. Patients are getting older and sicker and requiring more care. But a new generation of doctors, half or more of them women, is no longer interested in working long, grueling hours. Low insurance reimbursements and heavy paperwork loads also limit physicians’ willingness to see any patient any time. And tightening immigration rules have limited the number of foreign-born doctors entering the U.S. “There are restrictions on the supply side and growing demand, so longer waits are going to be inevitable,” says David Williams, a consultant with MedPharma Partners in Boston.
There are a couple of key takeaways for me:
- Americans may have more in common than we think with Europeans and Canadians who go overseas to avoid waiting times
- It reinforces my conviction that Americans shouldn’t look down their noses at health care provided elsewhere. We know we spend more in the US. The evidence on what we get for that extra spending is pretty thin