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Welcome to America, Where the Poorest People Pay the Highest in Medical Bills

I'm a medical professional in the U.S. and want to share some data that should disturb every American.

When I go home to Belgium, the country where I was born, I pay my family doctor $12 for a regular visit. When I had a freak asthma attack while vacationing in Estonia, my entire emergency room bill was $9.72. Yet, when I was dehydrated in college in Washington, D.C. and got saline and Tylenol, my ER bill was $600 after insurance coverage. How does this make sense and why do Americans accept such insanely high medical bills?

According to the Commonwealth Fund, a private health care research organization, 55 million adults were uninsured and an additional 30 million were underinsured in 2012. That means that 85 million adults are paying way over their heads in medical bills.

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The International Federation of Health Plans (IFHP) has recently released some jaw-dropping charts of how 2012 health care costs compared country-to-country. That abdominal CT scan that costs the average insured American $630 might cost the uninsured American $1737, but only costs a mere $103 in Argentina. Spending one day in the hospital costs the average insured American $4,287 and the uninsured American $12,537, but the average South African only pays $665. Going to see your doctor for a routine visit costs an average of $95 in the U.S. (up to $176), $30 in France and Canada, and a mere $11 in Spain.

Why does it cost so much more in the U.S. to stay healthy? There are many reasons that make health care so expensive. One major reason is that the U.S. government does not regulate prices. Just look at recent uproar after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released billing data that showed hospitals’ widely varying billings for the same procedures. It showed that some hospitals charge twice as much as others for the same procedure.

This leads to the next major reason: The health care system in the U.S. is a for-profit system. There are hundreds of private insurance companies, doctors making anywhere between $156,000 and $315,000 annually, brand name drugs, and for-profit hospitals. Take a look at the staggering CEO compensation of the 25 top-grossing non-profit hospitals in the U.S.

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Yet Americans are afraid of government control; they want the American freedom they are so proud of. I think it’s time we rethink our values to promote a healthier population that still has some savings in the bank.

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