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U.S. health care: We pay more, wait longer than other countries

November 14, 2013: 5:00 AM ET

Americans are much more likely to have trouble paying medical bills or getting a quick appointment with a doctor than their peers in 10 other high-income, industrialized countries, according to a new study.

Even Americans with insurance are more likely to forgo care because of high costs and to struggle to pay big bills, according to the survey, conducted by The Commonwealth Fund. And the United States spends far more on health care per person than other nations, to the tune of $3,000 more per head than the next closest nation.

Most of the other countries in the survey have public insurance systems with varying roles for the private market, but the report also includes ones with competing insurers, such as Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. The U.S. is alone in its complexity of health insurance plans, mix of public and private insurance programs and relatively limited regulations.

This leads to Americans paying a lot more out-of-pocket than their counterparts.

chart-medical-spending

The higher prices, however, don't mean we get to jump to the head of the line when it comes to seeing a doctor or nurse when we're sick.

chart-same-day-appt

That means we're more likely to go to the emergency room for treatment.

chart-emergency-room

One of the few advantages we have in healthcare is the ease in getting to see a specialist.

chart-specialist The Affordable Care Act will help address some of these disparities, said Cathy Schoen, the survey's author. Many uninsured Americans who have had trouble affording and accessing care will be covered starting in 2014. Also, the policies will be more comprehensive so patients won't be surprised by a treatment not being covered or by annual limits of coverage.

But even under Obamacare, as ACA is known, Americans will still pay more for health care than peers elsewhere because many plans carry deductibles that run into the thousands of dollars. The annual out-of-pocket spending limit for individuals is $6,350, while families may pay up to $12,700.

"The insurance in the exchanges will continue to have much higher cost sharing than in other countries," Schoen said.

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