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Fact check: Bernie Sanders’ health care comments need context

Nicholas Mott, CU News Corps

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Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke supporting Amendment 69 on the CU Boulder campus on Oct. 17. Amendment 69 – or ColoradoCare — would raise taxes in Colorado by $25 billion to provide universal health care in the state.

“Colorado can send a shot that will be heard all over the country and all over the world, Sanders said during the rally.

Other speakers at the event included Rep. Joe Salazar, Rep. Jonathan Singer and Sen. Irene Aguilar.

Sanders made a number of claims about healthcare in the U.S. today. They are examined below:

Sanders: “The United States of America, we pay in our country by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.”

This is true, but needs context.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development reported in 2015 that the U.S. spends on average more than twice as much per capita on prescription medication than the average of OECD countries. The U.S. spent 35 percent more than Japan, the country that comes closest in pharmaceutical spending. A 2015 Bloomberg report found that the U.S. spends more than most other countries on seven out of eight top-selling pharmaceuticals — even after reported price discounts.

This week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that prescription drug prices in the U.S. rose by 7.3 percent over the last 12 months while overall consumer goods went up by only 1.5 percent – the largest increase in 24 years.

“Many of our people cannot even afford the prescription drugs that their doctors prescribe — one out of five Americans.”

This needs context.

A 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 25 percent of respondents currently taking prescription medication or members of their immediate families have avoided filling a prescription over the past year because of the cost. Eighteen percent — almost one in five — reported purposely skipping doses or cutting the size of doses to escape the cost of refilling.

“28 million Americans lack any health insurance”

This is true.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reported last month that at the end of 2015, about 28.5 million non-elderly Americans were uninsured. Forty-six percent of uninsured adults said health insurance was simply too expensive to afford. However, the number of uninsured Americans has also decreased by 13 million since 2013. The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, gradually rolled out until reaching full effect in January 2014.

“We spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other major country on earth.”

This is false, and needs some context.

Overall, the U.S. spends substantially more than most other major countries, but not two times as much. The World Health Organization estimates the United States spent about $9,403 per capita on health care in 2014 — the third most of any country analyzed. In that same year, Switzerland spent $9,674 and Norway spent $9,522 per capita.

For comparison, the U.K. spent about $4,000, Japan spent $3,700 and France spent $5,000. According to 2015 OECD figures, the U.S. spends about 16.9 percent of its GDP on healthcare — the most of any country analyzed. Switzerland, for example, spends about 11.5 percent of GDP on healthcare. Japan spends 11.2 percent.

Nicholas Mott is a first-year master’s student in the journalism department of the College of Media, Communication and Information at the University of Colorado Boulder.

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Explanatory multimedia reporting from CU Boulder journalism students
Fact check: Bernie Sanders’ health care comments need context