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Why Spending More Is Getting Us Less

by Elizabeth H. Bradley ; Lauren A. Taylor

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61039-209-9
Publisher: PublicAffairs

Bradley (Public Health/Yale Univ.) and Harvard presidential scholar Taylor examine why Americans are less healthy than others around the world, even though the United States spends more on health.

The authors show that comparisons between health expenditures and outcomes are misleading since they count different things. The U.S. for example, outspends other advanced sector countries in gross national product terms, but measures of life expectancy, infant mortality and maternal survival are worse. Deconstructing numbers and interviewing professionals has led Bradley and Taylor to conclude that social welfare expenditures ought to be included with health care numbers to bring about a more realistic ranking. The United States is currently in the middle of the pack. To emphasize their point, the authors compare the social welfare spending of the U.S. to that in Scandinavian countries. For example, they demonstrate that helping a diabetic with $50 for new shoes can help to avoid the expenditure of $30,000 for the surgery that follows a visit to the emergency room. They insist that medical costs increase due to a lack of attention to the prevention and early treatment of many easily managed conditions, and they point to the public health benefits of programs for child support, income maintenance, and housing and employment support. The authors pair their comparison with a historical review of U.S. health care policy, showing how the present hospital-dominated arrangements developed out of compromises over repeated efforts to implement health programs. They also review the opposition to public health from the American Medical Association since the New Deal. Accused of advocating for poverty programs, Bradley and Taylor insist that their objective is to improve the effectiveness of spending by broadening access.

An important attempt to shift the discussion on health in the United States.