Thursday, November 3, 2005

Out-of-pocket medical expenses and medical errors were higher for patients in the United States than for those in countries that have state-funded health care systems, according to a new report.

The study, which was released yesterday by the Commonwealth Fund, surveyed nearly 7,000 patients from March to June in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Germany and New Zealand.

Roughly 34 percent of U.S. patients encountered a medical mistake in the past two years, followed by 30 percent of Canadian patients, said the New York health research organization, which promotes universal health care coverage through government and corporate initiatives.

A lack of coordination among health care providers, from hospitals to diagnostic laboratories, contributed to the error rate, said Cathy Schoen, an author of the study.

“Many of those patients were seeing multiple physicians and taking four or more prescriptions,” she said yesterday at an international health policy conference in Washington.

Additionally, 34 percent of U.S. patients paid more than $1,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses in the past year while only 14 percent of Canadian and Australian patients paid that much in the same period, the report said.

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said the effort to set up a nationwide electronic network of medical records may ease coordination problems and costs and reduce medical errors.

“These records are likely to be very effective for some individuals,” Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the federal agency’s director, said at the conference.

While medical errors and out-of-pocket expenses were higher, more than half of U.S. patients received the appropriate care for chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes.

Drug price increase slows

Manufacturers’ prices for brand-name prescription drugs rose nearly 1 percent during the second quarter, according to a study released this week by AARP.

The Washington senior citizens group, which releases quarterly reports on the nation’s drug prices, analyzed the cost of 193 widely used medications and found they jumped 0.9 percent during the period.

The increase was nearly double the 0.5 percent general inflation rate for the April-through-June quarter. But drug prices slowed in their acceleration from a 3.3 percent jump in the first quarter of 2005. AARP did not report any changes for the 75 generic drug prices it tracks.

Association plans introduced

Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, late Wednesday introduced a bill that would allow small businesses to band together to buy health insurance.

The measure, similar to a House bill that passed 263-165 in July, allows members of trade associations, chambers of commerce and other groups to bargain for health care coverage.

But Mr. Enzi’s bill does not allow groups to self-insure or bypass all state laws by operating under federal rules, a key provision in the House legislation. Association health plans would be required to offer benefits mandated by 45 or more states.

• Health Care runs Fridays. Call Marguerite Higgins at 202/636-4892 or e-mail her at

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