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Dr. Otis Brawley: US doesn’t get what it pays for when it comes to health

By Maria Saporta

The United States pays more for healthcare than any other nation on earth, and it is 50th in life expectancy among the countries in the United Nations.

Those were the sobering comments of Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer and executive vice president of the American Cancer Society, at the annual Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Health-Care Heroes awards dinner on Thursday evening.

“We need to get more scientific and professionally-based,” Brawley said. “We need to have a rational use of medicine.”

Without endorsing universal health-care insurance, Brawley presented statistics showing that people who are insured have a significantly higher chance to survive cancer after five years than people who have no insurance.

One theme of Brawley’s talk centered on whether we were getting our money’s worth for our health-care spending. Clearly, the answer was no.

In 2009, healthcare costs in the United States totaled $2.53 trillion. That represents about 17.3 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“That’s tremendously out of line with healthcare spending in other countries,” Brawley said. We are spending about $8,000 per person on healthcare a year. We don’t get what we pay for. We have the most expensive system, and we are 50th in terms of life expectancy.”

Brawley said that one of the biggest problems in the United States is “overtreatment” — which he described as a “gluttonous” situation. And it’s not getting better. Many healthcare experts estimate that by 2025, about 25 percent of the nation’s GDP will be spent on healthcare.

“Some people consume too much healthcare,” Brawley said of doctors and healthcare professionals who conduct numerous tests, such as MRIs, even when it’s not necessary.

By comparison, Canada is more judicious with its healthcare dollars.

“People can say we don’t live as long as people in Canada, but we sure do have better pictures of people dying,” Brawley said.

One of the other major issues in the United States is obesity — brought on by a “high caloric intake and a lack of physical activity,” Brawley said. “Our system is not well-designed to coach people on how to be healthy. It’s causing a tsunami of diseases.”

On the other hand, weight loss does help prevent heart disease, diabetes and other health problems, Brawley added.

By the way, Brawley just co-wrote a book that was published in January: “How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America.”

Another highlight of the Health-Care Heroes event at the Cobb Energy Center was when Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE USA, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Gayle said she believes that “all life does have equal value.” But not everyone is equal because of the randomness of birth — our parents, our country, our economic and physical situation.

“We all have a right to a healthy life,” Gayle said. “All of us are born with incredible potential. But all of us don’t have the ability to unlock that potential.”

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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