Americans Pay Most for Health Care

Americans pay more for health care per person than people anywhere else in the world, doling out more than 50 percent more for medical expenses each year as the second-highest-cost country, according to a new study.

And, contrary to popular belief, malpractice lawsuits have little impact on costs in this country, according to the study, published in the recent edition of Health Affairs.

U.S. citizens paid $5,267 per person for health care in 2002, the study found, 53 percent more than citizens of any other industrialized country and $1,821 more than people in Switzerland, the nation with the second-highest per capita spending among the 30 studied.

Medical malpractice costs account for less than 1 percent of spending. And defensive medicine, in which doctors run tests or do procedures to lower their chances of being sued, makes up no more than 9 percent of total spending.

Old Pacemakers Called Effective

For people over 70, pacemakers that stimulate only one part of the heart are just as effective as newer and more expensive devices that apply electricity to two of the heart's four chambers, British researchers said.

The finding suggested that the benefits of two-chamber pacemakers had been overestimated in older people with a heart condition called atrioventricular block, said the team, led by William Toff of Britain's Leicester University. The finding was published in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

Atrioventricular blocks, which occur when electrical impulses fail to reach the ventricles or are conducted with a delay, are a common reason for implanting a pacemaker.

The test of 2,021 volunteers who suffered from a slowed heartbeat found that after nearly five years, the annual death rate was 7.2 percent among those with pacemakers that stimulated one chamber, compared with 7.4 percent for the people who got "dual-chamber" pacing.

Overseas Approval for AIDS Drug

The Food and Drug Administration yesterday tentatively approved a generic version of GlaxoSmithKline's AIDS drug Retrovir, or AZT, allowing it to be used overseas as part of a U.S. plan to fight AIDS worldwide.

The generic form of the anti-retroviral drug, made by Indian drugmaker Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd., will not be available in the United States because Retrovir is still under patent, the FDA said.

But because Ranbaxy's version of AZT meets the agency's standards, it will be eligible for purchase and use in other countries under President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the FDA said.

The five-year, $15 billion program aims to pay for treatment for 2 million AIDS sufferers.

-- From News Services