The health system of the United States is in a paradoxical position. At its best, the system is a magnet for those seeking the latest technical breakthroughs. It can offer that excellence because there have never been effective financial constraints on the imagination; the system has become a major economic frontier, at which professional and other entrepreneurs successfully seek their fortune. At the same time, the system is leaving increasing numbers of Americans frustrated and disillusioned. It is beset by excess capacity in many areas, is needlessly expensive, and often bestows unnecessary health services. Yet only the experts are aware of these flaws; most Americans still express high satisfaction with the quality of the services they receive from their doctors and hospitals. The public's major misgivings arise over the awkward and inequitable way in which American health care is financed. The typical private health insurance policy, for example, is tied to a particular job. If the job is lost, so is the health insurance. Furthermore, these policies are priced on actuarially “fair” principles, so sick individuals are forced to pay higher insurance premiums than relatively healthy ones and chronically ill persons often cannot obtain health insurance coverage

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