Health Care Systems - U.s. vs. foreign health care systems






A common misconception surrounding the health care debate in the United States is that many other countries have already figured out the answers, and that all America has to do is replicate a foreign health care system and the problems will be solved. There are accounts of how everyone in Canada gets top quality medical care at reasonable costs. Germany and Britain are held up as examples of countries with effective health care systems. How is it that America spends more on health care than every other country and still does not manage to provide coverage for all its citizens?

There is no question that the United States can learn from the experiences of other countries, but there are no easy answers. Building a national health policy is tied closely to the values and priorities of the nation.

Canada, for example, has a national health system called Medicare, which covers all of its citizens. The Canadian government finances Medicare by raising people's taxes. All medical bills go to the government for reimbursement, so much of the paperwork is eliminated. Canada's health system is the second most expensive in the world, after the United States. Canadians pay about ten percent of their income for this universal insurance. People can choose their own doctors and see any specialists needed. The range of services is broad and fair because every person—rich or poor—is treated the same.

Canada makes this system work by imposing price controls on doctors and hospitals and keeping to a strict budget. The Canadian system is fair, but is it working? Business leaders say that the high tax rates are negatively affecting economic growth and employment rates in Canada. The tight budget also means that patients often have a lengthy wait for the care they need. Minor procedures and operations are often not available until the problem has become serious or even life threatening. As a result of these problems, benefits are starting to be reduced, and doctors are spending less time with patients (thirty percent less than American doctors). Even as American politicians are arguing that we should reform the U.S. health care system to be more like Canada's, Canadian politicians are urging the adoption of some of America's health care policies.

There are characteristics about foreign health systems to admire: universal coverage, lower costs, and free medical education. Every benefit, however, is balanced by a compromise, such as the limiting of choice and the rationing of services. Higher taxes, for example, help to pay for health care in countries like Germany.

Other countries have also pointed out that one reason for their lower health care costs is that the United States must treat different social problems that can become medical problems. For example, Americans pay for the high rates of teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, and violence. America also has a greater elderly population than many other countries. Both of these factors serve to increase costs for health care in the United States. It is hoped that the national debate over health care will help Americans decide what is right for the people.

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