As the United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, you might expect it to have one of the best health systems, as well. Unfortunately, researchers have found time and again that the country’s massively expensive healthcare industry falls short in several respects. Despite having a price tag far higher than every other nation, the U.S. does not have the highest life expectancy or the best infant mortality rate. American doctors and patients alike report dissatisfaction with everything from the cost of healthcare and the complexity of billing to the long waits for appointments and the short doctor-patient interactions. Read on for the 40 most shocking facts about the current medical industry.

Surprising Facts About the Medical and Healthcare Industry

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  1. In 2016, the U.S. spent $3.3 trillion, or $ $10,348 per person, on healthcare, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reported. The costs keep climbing, with the CMS estimating a 4.6 percent increase in 2017 and predicting another 5.3 percent increase for 2018, according to Reuters.
  2. In the U.S., healthcare spending accounts for 17.9 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or the total value of goods and services produced by the entire nation for the entire year, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
  3. The per capita price of healthcare per year is higher in the United States than in any other nation in the world, according to National Public Radio (NPR). America spends nearly 2.5 times as much per person as the United Kingdom does, despite having comparable wealth and a lower life expectancy.
  4. Almost two-thirds of that $3.3 trillion cost – 64 percent – is paid for by American tax dollars, and that amount is growing. A study by the American Journal of Public Health predicts that taxpayers will shoulder 67.3 percent of the burden of healthcare costs by the year 2024, Physicians for a National Health Program reported.
  5. As it is, health care taxes are higher in the United States than in any other country in the world – even those with universal healthcare programs, according to Physicians for a National Health Program. The full amount of health care taxes American taxpayers cover includes government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Administration as well as tax subsidies and the cost of private health insurance for public employees.
  6. Though opponents of a single payer system have long cited cost as an obstacle, a recent finding from the libertarian think tank Mercatus Center shows that the opposite is true, according to People’s Policy Project. Switching from the current model of numerous public and private insurers to a Medicare for All model would save the United States $2 trillion over 10 years by reducing drug prices, administrative costs and reimbursements for medical services.
  7. What makes healthcare so expensive in America? Rather than mere overuse of medical services, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the high cost of medical treatments and procedures is what makes healthcare expenditures twice as costly in the U.S. than in other wealthy countries, The Washington Post reported.
  8. Americans see their physicians less frequently than patients in most other countries. On average, citizens in the U.S. go to the doctor just four times a year, compared to the 12.9 times per year Japanese patients see their doctors on average, according to MLive Media Group. Only Switzerland, New Zealand and Sweden have a lower average number of doctor appointments than the United States.
  9. Administrative costs currently make up a major chunk of healthcare spending, especially in America. In fact, healthcare administrative spending accounts for eight percent of the GPD in the U.S., or more than $1.485 trillion if looking at 2016 data. The cost of healthcare administration in other nations is just three percent of the GPD, on average, according to healthcare revenue news source RevCycleIntelligence.
  10. Administrative spending is particularly problematic in United States hospitals, where it makes up about 25 percent of total hospital spending and accounts for hundreds of billions of dollars in healthcare spending annually, The Commonwealth Fund reported. The percentage of total hospital spending devoted to administration is highest in for-profit hospitals, followed by nonprofit hospitals, teaching hospitals and finally public hospitals.
  11. Inflated pharmaceutical prices is another huge factor in the steep cost of healthcare. The 20 top-selling medications worldwide cost on average three times more in the United States than they do in Britain, where prescription drug prices are regulated, Scientific American reported.
  12. As of 2018, the most expensive drug in America is Horizon Pharma’s Actimmune, which treats a rare genetic disorder called chronic granulomatous disease as well as a rare bone-hardening condition called malignant osteoporosis. Actimmune costs $52,321.80 per month, or a stunning $671,861.60 per year, according to CBS News.
  13. Long wait times are often cited as a downfall of universal healthcare systems, but wait times in America have reached a new high, too. The average time to make a physician appointment as a new patient in 15 major U.S. cities is now 24 days, up 30 percent in just 3 years (2014 to 2018)  according to physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins.
  14. Once you do get to see the doctor, don’t be surprised if you’re rushed out of the exam room before you get all of your questions answered, according to healthcare staffing agency Staff Care. Studies show that 41 percent of ophthalmologists spend just 9 to 12 minutes with a patient, and 13- to 16-minute appointments are the norm for 40 percent of cardiologists, 37 percent of pediatricians, 35 percent of urologists, 35 percent of family physicians, 34 percent of obstetricians and gynecologists and 30 percent of otolaryngologists.
  15. The average length of the portion of a doctor appointment in which the patient actually sees the doctor is up from previous years, rising by about 12 seconds per year, according to Reuters. However, 60 percent of physicians report dissatisfaction with the amount of time they spend with their patients, athenaInsight reported. Many doctors now spend more time on paperwork than seeing patients, and a primary care physician who spends 5 minutes of face-to-face time with a patient will spend another 19.3 minutes, on average, working on that patient’s electronic health records (EHRs).
  16. Patients, too, are unhappy with the care they receive during those brief interactions with their doctors. Healthcare communications company West Corporation reported that 25 percent of patients don’t feel that their provider cares about them as an individual and nearly 20 percent aren’t convinced their doctor is focused on improving their health – even though 93 percent of doctors strongly agree that patient satisfaction is important.
  17. Medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States, with only heart disease and cancer killing more Americans, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. An estimated 250,000 patients die due to medical errors each year, accounting for 10 percent of all U.S. deaths, and researchers believe that deaths from medical errors are under-recognized.
  18. Part of the reason for these long wait times and short appointments is due to a nationwide shortage of physicians that is only getting worse. A report by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that, due to population growth and specifically growth of the elderly population, the physician shortfall in the U.S. could reach 121,300 by the year 2030.
  19. The problem isn’t a shortage of people wanting to be doctors, but rather, too few opportunities for training. Medical schools have increased class sizes by 30 percent since 2002, but federal funding for residency training – an essential step in the process of becoming a practicing physician – has not increased since 1997, according to Inside Higher Ed.
  20. Students who make it into medical school pay a lot of money for the privilege of eventually becoming a doctor, with medical school students in the class of 2017 graduating with an average of $190,694 in student debt, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Those graduates who must put those loans in deferment or forbearance during residency – when their average salary is only in the $50,000-range – can expect to ultimately pay back $348,000 to $418,000 by the time compounding interest is factored into the equation.
  21. Physician is a high-paying career, and American doctors have some of the highest salaries worldwide, with general practitioners earning an average of $185,000 and surgeons earning $306,000 annually, according to MLive Media Group. Yet when you factor in the financial cost and the opportunity cost of becoming a physician, prospective doctors whose primary interest is earning potential would be better off becoming UPS drivers, according to Kevin Pezzi, MD.
  22. If doctors aren’t the ones bringing in more money than they could possibly need, where is the money going? Insurance chief executive officers (CEOs) earn an average base salary of $584,000, hospital CEOs earn $386,000 and even hospital administrators earn more than a general doctor, with an average base salary of $237,000, MLive Media Group reported.
  23. If your health insurer denies your claim or treatment, you have very little time to act. Appeals to Medicare must be filed within 90 days in the most lenient states, with even shorter deadlines in some states, and many insurers and healthcare providers will turn over unpaid medical bills to collection agencies after just 60 days, the AARP reported.
  24. Denied health insurance claims are a major problem for patients in America. When the United States Government Accountability Office last reported on coverage denials, it found that one quarter of health insurers denied at least 40 percent of the claims they received.
  25. Major health insurance companies have faced legal trouble over their claim denial practices. In February 2018, the insurance commissioner of California announced plans to investigate Aetna’s coverage denial practices after a former medical director of the insurance company admitted that he never once looked at a patient’s medical records when deciding whether to deny claims over the three years he worked in the position, according to CNN.
  26. About half of all denied claims that are challenged or appealed ultimately end up being covered – but only when policyholders put in the time and energy to fight the denial, the Los Angeles Times reported.
  27. Just under half – 49 percent – of Americans get their health insurance through their employer, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Another 19 percent of Americans are insured under Medicaid, 14 percent under Medicare, seven percent under non-group plans and two percent under other public insurers, while nine percent of U.S. citizens remain uninsured.
  28. For both workers and companies, employer-sponsored health insurance is costly. For 2018, employers paid an average of $10,000 per employee to cover 70 percent of the cost of health insurance, leaving workers with a price tag of about $4,200 for the remaining 30 percent of the expense, CNBC reported.
  29. The older you get, the more you will be forced to spend on healthcare. A couple retiring at age 65 in 2018 will spend $280,000, on average, on medical costs throughout their retirement, not counting the expense of over-the-counter medications or the cost of living in a nursing home, CBS News reported.
  30. Fears over not being able to afford health insurance or medical care are among the top reasons why Americans are delaying retirement. From 2000 to 2016, the number of Americans 65 and older working full-time or part-time rose by six percent to include almost 9 million people, according to the Pew Research Center.
  31. Given the high cost of medical care, it’s hardly a shock that patients are drowning in medical debt. Almost 20 percent of Americans households have delinquent medical bills that affect their credit report, according to NBC News. Having medical bills in collections makes it more difficult for patients to engage in other economic activities, such as purchasing a home or securing a loan to start a business.
  32. Even with health insurance, patients in the U. S. have a hard time affording their medical care. About one in five working-age Americans with health insurance, and more than half of those without health insurance, reported having trouble paying their medical bills in the last year, according to U.S. News & World Report.
  33. Nearly 60 percent of Americans surveyed support a Medicare for All program, according to Business Insider. Those in favor of Medicare for All include 75 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of registered Independents and 36 percent of Republicans, though Republican support jumps up to 64 percent when discussing an optional expanded Medicare program, also referred to as “Medicare for Some.”
  34. Interestingly, Americans show more favor toward Medicare for All healthcare initiatives than they do toward these efforts when they are labeled as “single payer,” most likely due to the popularity of the Medicare program, STAT reported.
  35. The last 20 years have seen the cost of medical care increase about 70 percent faster than the rate of general inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reported. Healthcare inflation dropped to a historical low after 2010 but is again on the rise as of 2018, according to Bloomberg.
  36. Despite the arguments of political opponents to the contrary, premium increases had been going on for decades before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. In fact, the average rate of yearly premium increases decreased after the law was passed in 2010, according to Forbes.
  37. One of the most important and most popular changes to the health insurance landscape brought about by the passing of the Affordable Care Act was the prohibition against denying patients health insurance, or charging them more, if they had preexisting conditions. Research shows that 27 percent of Americans in the 18 to 64 age group have what would have been considered a “declinable medical condition” before the Affordable Care Act took effect, and in some regions, the percentage of patients with preexisting conditions rises to nearly four in 10, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation reported.
  38. It’s not just health insurance premiums, but also deductibles, that keep on rising. In 2018, the average deductible was $3,000 for a gold-tier family plan, $8,000 for a silver-tier family plan and $12,000 for a bronze-tier family plan, according to USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.
  39. Pre-tax flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are often touted as the answer to high out-of-pocket medical costs, but many FSAs have “use it or lose it” rules. FSA holders lose $50 to $100 per year on average, CBS News reported, but since you’re allowed to contribute up to $2,650, you could risk losing thousands of dollars if you don’t spend your FSA money in time.
  40. In studies, the artificial intelligence (AI) technology used in some online health services for preliminary screening before connecting patients with a doctor actually outperformed real physicians in terms of reaching an accurate diagnosis, CNN reported. AI technology correctly diagnosed conditions in 81 percent of patients, compared to a 72 percent average for accurate diagnoses among real physicians over a five-year period.