Shannon Brownlee: Is Too Much Medicine Making Us Sick?

In most markets, paying more buys better quality. When you pay $400 for a night in the Four Seasons, you expect to get a better room and better service than you would at Motel 6. But in health care, the normal rules of economics don’t seem to apply. The American health care system ranks in the bottom third of developed nations. American medicine kills 100,000 patients a year through medical error and our health statistics are on a par with the Czech Republic and Chile, countries that you’d think would be beating us at soccer, not health care. Yet we spend twice as much per capita on average as any other developed country. The cost of U.S. health care has outstripped growth in the general economy for more than 30 years, and shows no signs of slowing down. Shannon Brownlee, author of Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, argues that our health care is so expensive because we waste as much as a third of every health care dollar, about $700 billion a year, on care that patients don’t need–and would probably avoid if they knew how useless and dangerous it is.

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