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'Obamacare' tackles health care costs. Will Congress?

The president's health care reform plan includes tools to restrain rising health-care costs, but they may not survive future political battles.

President Obama high fives 11-year-old Marcelas Owens after signing into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as 'Obamacare,' in Washington on Mar. 23. Owens lost his mother to illness before the health care legislation passed. Congressional demagoguery opposing Obamacare may cause cost-limiting measures to be repealed or replaced.

Larry Downing / Reuters / File

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The United States spends far more on health care than any other nation. Those high costs pinch American consumers, but they're a boon to providers of those medical goods and services.

General practitioners, for example, made about $161,000 a year in 2004, about twice the average among the 30 democracies in the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Registered nurses with two years of college make roughly twice what teachers with a four-year degree make. The US spends roughly twice as much on prescription drugs ($572 per person) as the average OECD nation.

That's one reason Uwe Reinhardt, an expert on health-care economics at Princeton University in New Jersey, sounds so gloomy about prospects for reining in medical costs. "Every dollar of health-care spending is someone's health-care income," he notes.

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