Health care: What critical issues face U.S. system?

CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook and CBS News contributors Dr. Holly Phillips and Dr. David Agus joined "CBS This Morning: Saturday" to discuss the major medical stories of the week.

A recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association was devoted to critical issues in health care. A series of reports on costs and results from 1980 to 2011 revealed that the price of health care in the U.S. has climbed significantly, but many medical outcomes for patients are falling behind other developed countries.

LaPook told the “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-hosts that Americans spend $2.7 trillion on health care every year, almost 18 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, a percentage that has doubled since 1980. However, that doesn’t mean that people in the U.S. are that much healthier than in other places.

“When you compare us to other developed counties, we really do not do very well. We spend more than twice per person on health care, and yet when you look at anything that you can measure, we’re towards the bottom of the list,” said LaPook. “We have the highest infant mortality, the highest obesity rate, and we’re second in terms of life expectancy at birth.”

Agus explained that even though the price of health care is going up, Americans are still not getting healthier because the U.S. system is not focused on “prevention.”

“Chronic diseases are overwhelming all of us – things like diabetes and heart disease really drain the system,” he said.

Agus also explained that there is a “paradox” in the system because much of that money is actually going to relatively young people as opposed to the elderly.

“As we’ve seen now, more and more people are having these chronic diseases, and chronic diseases cost an enormous amount of money,” said Agus. “We need to focus on prevention. We need to actually focus on ideas that can delay the onset of the diseases, and then we’re going to have a big impact on health.”

Another recent report, from the Comnmonwealth Fund, found that a surprisingly high percentage of Americans don't go to the doctor when they need to or don't fill prescriptions because they can't afford it. Phillips said the study showed that a large number of Americans went without recommended care.

“Whether its drugs, whether it's follow-up care with their physicians or tests - like radiology tests - 37 percent of Americans don’t follow through with these things because of costs,” she said.

LaPook explained that the way to fix this bleak picture would be to “change the whole system.”  He said there's a need to “change the perverse incentives that we have that reward doctors for doing stuff to people instead of having social service, more integrated health care and really looking at the big picture.”

Phillips said that she thought the Affordable Care Act is working to change the system.

“I think to effectuate a big change, you have to start somewhere,” she said. “Actually, that Commonwealth Fund study showed 75 percent of Americans really want to see health care totally overhauled. So, even though the Affordable Care Act is by no means a perfect plan, it is a plan, and it represents a change, and then we can tweak it as we go along.”

For Dr. David Agus, Dr. Jon LaPook and Dr. Holly Phillips' full roundup on this week's medical stories, watch the video in the player above.

Check out more from Morning Rounds with Dr. LaPook

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