American families pay $8,000 ‘poll tax’ to cover health care costs, economists argue

The US health care system is the most expensive in the world

American families are essentially paying an $8,000 tax to cover the skyrocketing cost of health care in the country, according to two top economists.

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Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton argued during the American Economic Association’s annual meeting in San Diego that a slice of the U.S. population is getting rich at the expense of the rest of the population, The Washington Post reported.

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The U.S. health care system is the most expensive in the world, and its cost far surpasses that of other high-income nations, according to a 2019 report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. America spends about $1 trillion more than Switzerland, the second-most expensive system — meaning U.S. households spend roughly $8,000 more than their Swiss counterparts.

Case and Deaton called the additional $8,000 that families pay a “poll tax.” The idea behind a poll tax is that it falls on every head, regardless of their ability to pay.

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Even though it spends an astronomical amount on health care, the U.S. has the lowest life expectancy and the highest infant mortality rates, compared to the U.K., Canada, Germany, Australia, Japan, Sweden, France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland, according to a JAMA study.

“We can brag we have the most expensive health care,” Case said. “We can also now brag that it delivers the worst health of any rich country.”

In order to combat rising costs, Case and Deaton, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, said that everyone needs to be in the health system, via insurance or a single-payer system like Medicare-for-all, and there must be cost controls, including price caps on drugs and government decisions not to cover some procedures.

Deaton is especially critical of U.S. doctors, pointing to the fact that 16 percent of people in the top 1 percent of income earners are physicians, according to research by Williams College professor Jon Bakija and others.

“Physicians are a giant rent-seeking conspiracy that’s taking money away from the rest of us, and yet everybody loves physicians,” Deaton told the Post. “You can’t touch them.”

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Repairing the health care system has been a focal point of Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Both progressive senators have endorsed and championed Medicare-for-all, introducing sweeping, multi-trillion-dollar plans to shift the country toward a government-run system.

Overhauling the health care system, however, will be no easy feat. The economists pointed to the practice of “surprise billing,” where someone is taken to a hospital (even an in-network hospital covered by their insurance) and subsequently receives a bill for the amount insurance didn’t cover.

Despite overwhelming support among the electorate -- at least three-quarters of Americans favor policies that would protect them from surprise billing -- and a bipartisan push in Congress to take action, industry lobbying pressure at the end of last year squelched the effort.

“We believe in capitalism, and we think it needs to be put back on the rails,” Case said.