Friday, September 21, 2012

The best healthcare in the world

I have had only a few personal experiences with European-style healthcare, and they were a long time ago. A Swiss doctor gave me my pre-college physical. A British doctor looked at my adolescent face and prescribed skin cream. What I remember most--and what totally amazed my parents--was that the consultations and meds were free.

I thought no more about the differences between European and American healthcare until, middle-aged, I began working for a U.K. publisher. I was watching TV news one evening when a political ad came on. Cue the scary music, the dark screen. Do you want our healthcare to turn into a big ghastly mess like American healthcare? asked the portentous announcer. If not, by all means vote Labour. Save the National Health System.

Hmmm, I thought... I'd always heard we Americans have the best healthcare in the world. Is this any way to scare Britons?

Apparently, and it's a good way to scare Germans, Italians, the French, and any number of other Western Europeans as well.

Rachel's baby gets his
broken leg set in France
Want to know why? Read Rachel Stone's account of her family's experiences with healthcare in Scotland, Italy, France, Germany--and the United States.

"It should be within every person’s ability to take care of their health, and that of their children, without going bankrupt," Rachel writes. "I think the free market has had a fair shot at making that happen, and lost."

Ah, but Europeans pay awfully high taxes, don't they? Yes, but not because of their healthcare systems. The American government already spends a little more on healthcare than three of those four countries, even though, in addition, Americans fork over much more out of pocket.*

When you add government expense to private expense, American health care is 65% more expensive than France's and 100% more expensive than the U.K.'s. And for that, what do we get? Read Rachel's story. Here's the link again.

*In 2006, the last year for which comparative data is available, the U.S. government spent $3074 per capita on healthcare. That's $135 more than the U.K., $265 more than Germany, and $880 more than Italy. Granted, though, it's $159 less than France. 

However, government expenditure is only part of the story. No country that I know of pays for 100% of healthcare; some of the funding comes from private insurers, and some comes directly from patients. In America in 2006, for example, our nongovernmental healthcare expense came to $3640 per capita. That's what we paid, on average, beyond the $3074 we had already paid in taxes.  Compare that with Germany's additional expense, $860; France's, $823; Italy's, $651; and the U.K.'s, $422.

(Data is from the World Health Organization.)

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