WASHINGTON - Today U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Herb Kohl (D-WI) held a hearing to examine the factors that lead to higher health care costs in America, with a focus on what can be gleaned from successful health care systems abroad.  Though certain systems have shown that higher health care quality can be achieved at a lower cost, the United States' spending has continually towered above other industrialized nations.  Americans spend roughly $7300 per capita annually while other developed countries spend an average of $2900.
"We must be willing to learn from the many examples of successful health care systems around the world that are doing it as well as or better than we are," said Chairman Kohl.  "If we pass a piece of health reform legislation without sufficiently addressing the issue of health care spending, we will have failed." 
Witnesses at the hearing addressed the most basic problems in our system, giving an overview of the causes of expensive health care in the United States.  Several witnesses outlined specific ways in which other nations deliver high quality care at a cost much lower than the United States, and offered explanations for why we pay more for physician services, prescription drugs, medical equipment, and hospital services.  We also expect to learn about why our administrative costs are so much higher across the board.  In 2004, the United States paid more than seven times the average of other developed countries in administrative costs.
Earlier this month, Kohl was joined by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mark Begich (D-AK), Evan Bayh (D-IN), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in sending a letter to Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), urging him to include further cost-cutting measures to curb the rapid growth of health care spending.  In the letter, the senators recognize that getting costs under control will require more than mere rhetoric, and offer their support in making decisions that may be unpopular to influential industry groups.
First on the panel to testify was Mark Pearson, head of the Health Division at Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), who shared OECD data regarding the cost disparities between the U.S. and other developed countries.  Next was Dr. Carolyn Bennett, former Canadian Minister of State (Public Health), who focused on costs in the Canadian health care system and highlighted some concrete examples of how Canada keeps costs comparatively low.
Dr. Cathy Schoen, Senior Vice President for Research and Evaluation at the Commonwealth Fund, then provided an overview of some of the Commonwealth Fund's research on health care costs.  The Fund's publications include comparative research on the United States versus other industrialized country as well as some domestic examples that our system could improve upon.  Dr. Arnold Epstein, chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard's School of Public Health, discussed quality indicators in the United States and other developed countries as it relates to health care costs.   Finally, Michael Tanner a senior fellow at the CATO Institute, offered testimony on the high health care costs and quality issues in America from the perspective that quality in the U.S. is very high, but costs still need to be better controlled. 
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