The United States Health Care System: Best in the World, or Just Most Expensive?

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
July 22, 2019 - August 02, 20197/22 - 8/02M-F 3:30P-6:20POpenLacey Loomer
Rebecca Thorsness

Course Description

Health care systems involve the delivery of care (including providers, patients and technology); financing (including various public and private insurance sources and methods for paying for care); and public oversight (both federal and state governmental). The United States health care system is a complicated and ever-evolving system, as policy makers strive to curb costs and improve quality and access.

The US possesses the most diverse financing mechanisms in the world, and by the far the most expensive health system. Through discussions, readings, projects, data analysis, and lectures, this course will review the major components of the US health care system, including the political and economic environment that motivates government, private sector and individual consumers’ behavior and expectations.

This course will equip students to understand and critique the history and future of the US health care system, with a particular focus on understanding proposed health policies under consideration by state and federal governments. Students will become comfortable with the foundations of the health care system in the United States including health insurance, the Medicare and Medicaid programs, delivery systems, pharmaceuticals, physicians, hospitals, patients, and regulatory features. They will analyze the performance (including access, quality, and cost) of the system for individuals with different backgrounds, health statuses, and geographies, and compare the US health care system to those of other developed countries.

The course will also provide an introduction to data analysis to help students understand how policies are evaluated. This course will equip students with the skills to critically analyze whether the Affordable Care Act was successful, what Medicare-for-All might look like if implemented, and other topical issues.

The instructors, both PhD students studying various aspects of the US health care system, worked with insurers, providers, and policy makers before beginning their doctoral studies.

Activities will include reading news articles, academic studies, engaging with the online health insurance marketplace and quality compare tools, and a final group project analyzing a proposed policy of their choosing.

By the end of the class students will know how to think critically about and assess the costs and benefits of current and proposed health policies. They will also have a sense of how statistics are used by policymakers to assess and promote policies. They’ll be introduced to public health data analysis though their final project which will include analysis with statistical programming software that will be covered in the course (Excel, R, or Stata).

Prerequisites: Interested students should be comfortable talking about basic statistics, such as percent and rate calculations, but do not need to have taken a statistics course previously. High school students of all grade levels are welcome to enroll.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPC0902
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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