Odysseas Papadimitriou is founder and chief executive officer of Evolution Finance, the parent company of Wallet Blog and Card Hub, an online marketplace for credit cards.
The discussion about health-care reform tends to center around coverage: Who pays for it? Who will get it? And what does that mean for those who do? What's missing is an acknowledgment that a system that doesn't hold the recipient partily responsible for the financial burden of medical expenses is likely to fail. The problem with America's current system is evident when looking at its global performance. Though our life expectancy is about the same as in France, Sweden and the U.K., the price of health care (as a percentage of gross domestic product) varies greatly. According to the World Health Organization's 2009 report, the U.S. pays more than 15% of GDP, whereas France pays 11.2%, Sweden 9.2% and the U.K. 8.2%. We are spending more for the same level of health care because our system encourages inflated costs. For the system to succeed in keeping health-care costs down, the recipient needs to be discouraged from frivolous medical procedures and frequenting expensive medical practitioners when equally competent and cheaper alternatives are available. The success of a free market depends on its ability to reward medical providers who offer the best service for the lowest price. Under the current system, the majority of patients have no such incentive as long as the insurance company is picking up the tab. Moreover, doctors have no incentive to keep costs at a minimum, given that patients don't care as long as their insurance company pays.