Sky High and Rising

Five years ago, in my mid-30s, I was diagnosed with what turned out to be chemotherapy-resistant lymphoma. I was lucky: My job offered decent insurance, my doctor-father helped me understand what to ask for, and I lived reasonably close to Johns Hopkins' top-ranked medical facilities. By the grace of God, the prayers of friends and co-workers, and weeks of high-tech inpatient care, I am alive and well.

Back at work, I started reading about how the U.S., compared to other wealthy, industrialized nations, pays a wildly disproportionate (and growing) amount for health care -- in 2009, 17.6 percent of the entire national economy, basically half again the amount paid by France. The other countries of Western Europe, Japan, Korea, and Australia pay even less, often with percentages in the single digits, even though a much bigger chunk of those countries' populations is elderly. All these countries have higher life expectancies than the U.S; in general, their residents are more likely to get a same-day visit with their doctors when they get sick, to stay in the hospital longer after a heart attack, and to suffer from fewer medical errors.

So I have two questions: What can the U.S. do so that its health-care system would provide better results, at a less extreme cost? And, under such a system, would I be alive today?

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