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Healthcare Costs and U.S. Competitiveness

Introduction

Factoring in costs borne by government, the private sector, and individuals, the United States spends over $1.9 trillion annually on healthcare expenses, more than any other industrialized country. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical School estimate the United States spends 44 percent more per capita than Switzerland, the country with the second highest expenditures, and 134 percent more than the median for member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). These costs prompt fears that an increasing number of U.S. businesses will outsource jobs overseas or offshore business operations completely. U.S. economic woes have heightened the burden of healthcare costs both on individuals and businesses, and the incoming Obama administration says it plans to provide funding for healthcare as part of a fiscal stimulus package aimed at boosting the U.S. economy. Yet despite the economic downturn, experts see a consensus emerging that healthcare reform should move forward.

Competitive Disadvantage

The United States spent 16 percent of its GDP in 2007 on health care, higher than any other developed nation. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that number will rise to 25 percent by 2025 without changes to federal law (PDF). Employer-funded coverage is the structural mainstay of the U.S. health insurance system. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 71 percent of private employees in the United States had access to employer-sponsored health plans in 2006. A November 2008 Kaiser Foundation report notes that access to employer-sponsored health insurance has been on the decline (PDF) among low-income workers, and health premiums for workers have risen 114 percent in the last decade. Small businesses are less likely than large employers to be able to provide health insurance as a benefit. At 12 percent, health...

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