Everything you ever wanted to know about the US system is buried in this article in the NY times article called Whose Problem Is Health Care?. The interesting core paragraphs tell you that
After corporate income taxes, employee benefits are the second-largest structural cost for American manufacturers, adding 5.8 percent to costs, according to the study. In all major economies, paying for health care means a combination of public and private money. But in the United States, businesses pay a larger chunk than do their European and Asian counterparts.
"In Canada, for example, a lot of the expenditures for health are funded out of general revenues," said Jeremy Leonard, an economic consultant for the Manufacturers Alliance, and the report’s main author. In Canada, the private sector spends 2.8 percent of gross domestic product on health care; in the United States, the private-sector figure is 7.7 percent. And American private-sector spending falls disproportionately on big employers like manufacturers. Some 97 percent of members of the National Association of Manufacturers provide health care coverage for employees. In 2002 alone, General Motors, which covers 1.2 million Americans, spent $4.5 billion on health care.
Uwe Reinhardt, an economist at Princeton, has referred to General Motors, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler as "a social insurance system that sells cars to finance itself.”
And as Uwe knows, the US government is a mutual insurance company with large military wing struggling with its debt repayment package.
All the other salient facts are that over 95% of companies with more than 200 workers provide health insurance, and only 65% of those under 200 employees do. And those that do not are the ones paying low wages (i.e. it’s not the law firms or boutique investment banks). So that’s where uninsurance comes from and why 85% of the unisured are the working poor.
The other side of the story is that the US private sector spends 7.7% of GDP on health care. (I think that’s the same as saying that of the GDP, 7.7% goes on health care that is privately funded). If I recall it rightly some 15% of private sector payroll goes on health care costs. But the overall issue is that although costs are a big deal for employers, they are not the biggest deal and are a realtive low percentage of total expenditures. Contrast that with the role of the health minister in most European countries. His or her health care bottom line is 100% of what s/he cares about, and also has to be defended from both other government departments and the central treasury in governments that budget centrally, not at the whim of a parliament that can create programs without caring about the overall government budget (as does the US Congress). Hence, no-one in the US is responsible for overall health care costs.
This is not in itself good or bad. It’s just different, and certain parties, such as large employers, the uninsured and anyone buying their own health insurance, do way worse than they would in a system that didn’t rely on employment-based insurance and had some central cost control. But don’t worry, if you’re reading this and you don’t fit into that category–perhaps because you work in the health system–it probably means that you’re doing better than you would in one of those nasty single payer countries!