The Rising Costs of Healthcare


Kevin Han

This article was also published in The Chronicle Times

Modern medical treatments can heal mild and deadly injuries–from cuts and broken bones to cures for diseases. However, in the United States of America, these treatments and medicines that could potentially save someone’s life are not widely available due to the high costs of healthcare. This denies lower income families from receiving potentially life-saving services. 

The United States has one of the highest healthcare costs globally, with over 4.1 trillion dollars spent in 2020; COVID-19 drastically increased the average healthcare prices. It drove a 9.7% growth in total national healthcare spending, bringing it to 4.1 trillion from the previous amount, which was much lower— averaging to around $12,500 per person. U.S. spending on healthcare costs is nearly triple that of other countries.

However, the high costs do not mean that the goods and services improve significantly. The U.S. lags behind many other countries despite spending trillions each year. The average life expectancy in the U.S. is much below the average of other comparable countries—77.3 for the U.S. to 82.1 years for the others. The U.S. has much lower decreases in mortality rates (29% to 43% in other countries), premature death rates (12,724 years of life lost for the U.S. to 8,258 years of life lost in other countries), and maternal mortality rates (20.1 deaths per 100,000 births for the U.S. to 5.3 per 100,000 births) when compared to other countries’ averages. These statistics show that all the money going into healthcare does not translate into better support for patients, as other countries that spend much less do much better on services provided to people (Health System Tracker).

Roughly 1 in 3 Americans worry about paying for healthcare, according to a survey done by NBC News in 2020. In June of 2020, a man who was hospitalized for 62 days due to Covid-19 received a $1.1 million bill, which supports the idea that the high costs of healthcare impact hundreds of thousands of lives negatively every day. These high prices effectively deny service to lower-income families, make adults delay their treatments, and prevent many people from getting the medicine they need. This problem becomes more and more concerning. 46% of adults reported having difficulty paying for dental care; 33% said they had difficulty paying for hearing or vision care, and 26% reported the same for prescription drugs. Over 27% of the insured said that the service was difficult to afford. The constantly increasing price of healthcare in the U.S. causes families to worry about things that should be available to anyone that needs it. 

The American Medical Association (AMA) stated that healthcare costs are rising each year; this increase is estimated to be around 4.5%—with the recent pandemic making it worse. By 2028, these numbers are expected to climb up to $6.2 trillion, or $18,000 per person. This would put even more pressure on low to middle income families, or roughly 80% of the U.S. population (29% low, 52% middle, according to a report from 2016). Low to middle income families make around $42,000 a year (for a family of four), and middle income families make roughly $62,000 to $67,000 on average each year. Considering that, without insurance, a broken arm costs around $2,500 to mend, it is understandable how worrying the prices are rising for healthcare is for low/middle income families (KFF)

According to a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study, five factors impact the rising healthcare costs: service price and intensity, population growth, population aging, disease prevalence or incidence, and Medical service utilization. The researchers found that service price and intensity made up nearly 50% of the increase. As the population increases, healthcare costs increase due to more people needing the treatments, creating a linear relationship between the two. Individuals aged 65 and older, account for around 17% of the U.S. population (2022). By 2030, experts estimate that this number will increase to roughly 20%. As this age group spends more money on healthcare (on average) than any other group, the research indicates that as time goes on, healthcare prices will increase. As people turn 65+, they can sign up for Medicare, which would mean more money is spent on healthcare.

Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) stated that the three key factors that drive U.S. healthcare costs are prescription drugs, chronic illnesses, and lifestyle. Prescription drug prices are expected to rise by 136% from 2010 to 2025. Chronic illness treatments account for 86% of U.S. healthcare costs; unhealthy lifestyles can lead to diseases and illnesses. All these factors that cause the prices to rise pile together to create even bigger problems that impact many lives. 

Another problem involving the cost of healthcare is the lack of transparency, which makes it difficult for patients to know the actual cost of the treatment they need. However, this issue was addressed by the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) in 2021, which prevents patients from surprise billing—another cause of rising healthcare costs. This gives more information to patients, such as telling patients where each of the prices come from. 

Due to these factors affecting many Americans’ lifestyles, U.S. healthcare prices have no choice but to keep increasing. Thousands of Americans suffer from injuries and diseases due to the immense amount of money they need to pay for treatment. These problems are not easily solvable, as each one of the factors is a result of other key problems affecting American lives.