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New Study Highlights Differences in Healthcare Costs Across the Globe

Posted on Apr 04, 2013 by Sergio Ulloa ()  | Tags: comparative price report, healthcare costs, international insurance costs

 The International Federation of Health Plans, or iFHP, recently released its 2012 Comparative Price Report, which offers a comprehensive look at healthcare costs around the globe. The iFHP is an international insurance trade association, which includes more than 100 insurers in 25 countries. Each year, the survey offers a clear, yet surprising look into the real cost of different drugs, services and devices among the 25 represented countries, and this year marks the fourth year of the study. Research is compiled using data from iFHP member plans and helps those in the industry understand why healthcare costs can so greatly vary between countries.

London-based iFHP CEO Tom Sackville said "We hope the release of this updated report on our price survey will be a step forward in creating a more informed knowledge base for all our member countries, allowing them to better assess the impact of unit prices on the cost of health care."

Some new items were included on this year's study, including new prescription drug prices, due to increased interest. In addition, iFHP has added three other non-drug related items to the list, which include hip prosthesis, knee replacement, and colonoscopy. When configuring the data, the prices for each country have been given by participating federation member plans and come from different sectors.

This year, like previous years, the study shows that average healthcare costs in the United States continue to be the highest in the world by significant margins for a majority of the common procedures and services that have been reviewed. It's important to note also that the US costs are given as a range, as opposed to other countries. In most of the other countries listed, people pay close to the same amount for their healthcare costs, regardless of their insurance. In the US, however, the individual insurer usually negotiates the price with the provider, resulting in what can be very different prices for the same services.

In almost every graph of the study, the US proved to be the most expensive. For example, according to the survey, a MRI in the US averages about $1,121 but can be as much as $2,871. The next highest was South Africa with the cost of an MRI costing about $1,072 and Switzerland ranking third highest at about $928. However, in the UK the price for the same procedure costs about $335. One of the most staggering differences was the cost of a routine office visit. In both Canada and France the cost for a routine visit is about $30, and it is slightly higher in Chile, where it costs about $38. Yet the cost for the same service in the US varies from $68 to $176, with the listed average at about $95.

Drugs were also a key indicator of just how much more healthcare costs are in the US. For example, Celebrex, which is prescribed for pain typically costs from from about $50 to just more than $160 in the other countries listed. Yet in the US the price of the drug ranges from $128 to $258. Nasonex was one of the most striking differences, where prices for the common allergy were all less than $40 in other countries but fluctuated from about $105 to $115 in the US.

While the study confirms what many have already known, in that the healthcare industry in the US is more costly than other countries, it is also important to consider the reasons for these stark differences. Tom Sackville from iFHP offers his opinion that "health is a business in the United States in quite a different way than it is elsewhere."

The US approach to healthcare different than many other countries, particularly those included in the study. "It's very much something people make money out of," he adds. "There isn't too much embarrassment about that compared to Europe and elsewhere."

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