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Is Health Care a Hidden $8,000 Tax on Each American Family?

Michael Rainey

The U.S. famously has the most expensive health-care system in the world, and according to two well-known economists it amounts to a hefty tax that households must pay each year.

Speaking at a conference last weekend, Angus Deaton and Anne Case of Princeton University said that Americans pay about $1 trillion more for health care than the next most expensive country, Switzerland. Divided across the U.S. population, it’s the rough equivalent of an $8,000 “poll tax” on each household — a levy that is applied to all regardless of ability to pay.

The problem, Deaton and Case say, is that the extra money provides little or no benefit. In fact, life expectancy in Europe is higher than in the U.S., suggesting that all the extra spending is a waste. “We can brag we have the most expensive health care. We can also now brag that it delivers the worst health of any rich country,” Case said, according to The Washington Post’s Heather Long, who wrote about the issue Tuesday.

Worse, Deaton and Case say the health care system is actively contributing to serious problems in the country, including the opioid epidemic and declining life expectancy. Deaton singles out drugmakers, hospitals and even doctors for the roles they play, pointing out that about one in six of the top 1% are physicians.

“Physicians are a giant rent-seeking conspiracy that’s taking money away from the rest of us,” Deaton told Long. But fixing the problem won’t be easy. “[E]verybody loves physicians,” Deaton said. “You can’t touch them.”

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