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In an opinion piece published in the December edition of the American Journal of Public Health, Dr. Steven Teustch, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor of health policy and management, and co-author Dr. Sanne Magnan, with HealthPartners Institute and the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, share their perspective on how to address the reality the United States pays more for medical care compared with other wealthy nations.
This much is well known: the United States pays too much for medical care compared with other wealthy nations, lacks universal coverage, and has poorer, inequitable health outcomes than other wealthy nations. The recent events of COVID-19 and the tragic, urgent calls for racial justice have vividly demonstrated the deficiencies resulting from health care inequities and the public health system’s years of neglect.
Now, when these problems are apparent to all, there is a unique opportunity to make equitable investments in affordable medical care and in the factors that make a population healthy. Key to doing this is informing stakeholders—including ourselves—of the consequences of our society’s false narrative that medical care is the predominant driver of health.
Rising medical care costs and decreasing life expectancy threaten the core mission of public health: “what we, as a society, do collectively to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy.” For every medical care dollar wasted, there is one less dollar for public health, including universal coverage and social and environmental determinants of health and well-being.