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Int J Health Serv. 2004;34(1):65-78.

Health care administration in the United States and Canada: micromanagement, macro costs.

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Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


A decade ago, U.S. health administration costs greatly exceeded Canada's. Have the computerization of billing and the adoption of a more business-like approach to care cut administrative costs? For the United States and Canada, the authors calculated the 1999 administrative costs of health insurers, employers' health benefit programs, hospitals, practitioners' offices, nursing homes, and home care agencies; they analyzed published data, surveys of physicians, employment data, and detailed cost reports filed by hospitals, nursing homes, and home care agencies; they used census surveys to explore time trends in administrative employment in health care settings. Health administration costs totaled at least dollar 294.3 billion, dollar 1,059 per capita, in the United States vs. dollar 9.4 billion, dollar 307 per capita, in Canada. After exclusions, health administration accounted for 31.0 percent of U.S. health expenditures vs. 16.7 percent of Canadian. Canada's national health insurance program had an overhead of 1.3 percent, but overhead among Canada's private insurers was higher than in the U.S.: 13.2 vs. 11.7 percent. Providers' administrative costs were far lower in Canada. Between 1969 and 1999 administrative workers' share of the U.S. health labor force grew from 18.2 to 27.3 percent; in Canada it grew from 16.0 percent in 1971 to 19.1 percent in 1996. Reducing U.S. administrative costs to Canadian levels would save at least dollar 209 billion annually, enough to fund universal coverage.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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