She questions not only whether ACOs will do what is expected, but also scrutinizes another path for controlling costs. She cites a 2011 OECD report that described the U.S as an extraordinary outlier in the amount it spends per capita on health care. It’s worth repeating those numbers. U.S. per capita spending is almost $8000, more than double the average for the 34 developed countries from which the OECD collects data. But what’s key from the report, she writes, is that the volume of health care services did not vary much by country. That turns American policymakers’ focus on its head, she argues. Policymakers blame our high spending on the high use of health care and unnecessary services. But the real problem is the price we pay compared to other countries, she says, noting that “American patients pay 163 percent more to hospitals, 238 percent more for doctors’ visits, and 152 percent more for drugs than the OECD average.”
What’s the takeaway for reporters? Sanger-Katz sets a high standard for reporting on your local hospital, and shows what can result when reporters move beyond the press releases and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Her reportage is fresh, engaging, and realistic. And she did it by using old-fashioned reporting techniques—reading and asking questions of a lot of people—the stuff that made the Philadelphia Inquirer reporting duo of Don Barlett and Jim Steele so famous. Sanger-Katz shows the value of skepticism, which good reporters need in large doses to understand that what the conventional wisdom says is true may not be true at all.