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Expert compares high cost of health care to goods consumers can relate to

By Melissa Mitchell, News Editor, News Bureau, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

If Americans spent the same amount of money on health care as counterparts in Canada and a number of other countries, the difference between what they spend now and what they would save annually would be enough to pay for two plasma TVs or three Big Macs a day.

The same savings might also cover a year's worth of utility bills, feed a family of four for two years, fuel a car for two years and seven months, or be used to purchase a BMW sports car in 10 years.

Those are just some of the scenarios worked out in a new study by Tom O'Rourke, a professor emeritus of community health at the University of Illinois, who has spent much of his career examining the nation's ailing, failing health-care system. In particular, O'Rourke has studied how the U.S. system compares with those in Canada and other Western nations.

His findings haven't exactly been uplifting for U.S. health-care consumers.

The United States has the highest per capita spending on health care of any Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nation, O'Rourke notes in the new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Health Studies. The OECD is a group of countries committed to democracy and market economy.

Out of the 30 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development nations, the United States has the highest per capita health-care costs of all at $6,102 as of 2004, despite having fewer physicians, doctors visits, hospital beds, hospital days and nurses per capita than the median OECD country, O'Rourke said.

By contrast, the average spending per capita in Canada was $3,165 in 2004; the OECD median per capita (excluding Belgium, Japan and the Slovak Republic, for which 2004 data was unavailable) was $2,596.

For a country that prides itself on being economically and technologically superior to most countries in the world, O'Rourke asked, why do we have the most expensive health-care system, but certainly not the best health statistics compared to the other OECD nations, including Canada?

List of international leaders with U. of I. ties continues to grow

By Jan Dennis, Business & Law Editor, News Bureau, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

The leader of a South American nation where thick rainforests straddle the equator earned his doctoral degree at a U.S. university in the shadows of cornfields a half a world away.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa is just one of more than a half-dozen University of Illinois economics department graduates who have risen to high-ranking international government and finance posts over the last five years.

Others head central banks across Latin America and Asia, as well as government ministries that regulate finance, trade and industry in developing nations from Paraguay to Senegal.

How many schools, in the Midwest especially, can boast so many highly placed graduates? said Werner Baer, a U. of I. economics professor who served on Correa's thesis committee when the first-term president earned his Ph.D. in 2001.

Baer says the roll of distinguished graduates is rooted in recruiting efforts that started among a few faculty members nearly three decades ago and has since grown into a department mission, aided by grants that have stretched its reach.

The school's push took off in 1984, when the Urbana campus began its master's of science in policy economics (MPSE), said Firouz Gahvari, who heads the intensive study program.

The unique study program, which offers tailored training in 12 fields, is aimed at workers in finance ministries, central banks and other public and private agencies who have been targeted for advanced study because of their potential, Gahvari said. More than 90 students from 16 countries are enrolled in the program, which has awarded nearly 1,000 degrees to students from 94 nations.

This program impacts the lives of so many people in so many parts of the world, Gahvari said. And I do not just mean the students, because many of our graduates become leaders in their countries and affect the lives of their countrymen. I feel proud of what we have done and am also humbled by what we are doing.

Gahvari said the program's graduates include heads of central banks in Colombia, Guatemala and Korea, government ministers in Paraguay, Indonesia and Senegal, and a host of top aides.

I think this might be the harvest, Baer said of the department's recent surge of highly placed alumni. We started recruiting students from Latin America on a larger scale in the late ‚s, and it takes about 20 years to work your way up to the top. I would expect to see more of these cases from now on.

Grants available for intern programs

Matching money is available for local businesses that hire interns from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the upcoming semester.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education's cooperative work study grant is designed to encourage internships for students.

Organizations can be awarded 40 percent of a student's intern wages, up to a maximum of $2,000.

For information about the program, contact Amy Fruehling at UI Business Career Services at or (217) 265-4045.

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