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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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It was like telling a child the truth about Santa Claus

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C. Burke King

C. Burke King diverted his eyes and lowered his voice as he answered the question from the man in the audience. It was as if it was painful for him to disabuse his questioner, to say again that America has a high-cost, low-quality health care system.

King, the president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, was at the Marriott in downtown Fredericksburg Tuesday night to speak to the Rappahannock Area Business Leadership Forum. He opened his speech with an indictment of America’s health care system, and later, a man in the audience asked him about it.

“We hear a lot about having the best health care service,” the man said. How do you reconcile that with the picture that King had painted? the man asked.

King was apologetic but unyielding. “Frankly we rank kind of low on quality measures,” he said.

King explained that America’s per-capita costs are the highest in the world, but that our spending doesn’t buy top-flight care. On key indicators, such as infant mortality and life expectancy, we rank last or nearly last among industrial countries, he said.

In addition, America doesn’t cover all of its citizens, as other industrial countries do. We don’t have enough primary care physicians. The chronically ill bounce from provider to provider with no coordination of care. And now two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

Anthem and others are trying to improve the situation, King said. But the reality is that, “We have a health care system that falls down on many metrics when it comes to quality and efficiency.”

 (A story from today’s paper on how Anthem customers may soon be getting rebates can be seen here.)