Health care around the world

I just re-read an article by T.R. Reid (link) that ran in The Washington Post back in 2009 August 23, but it’s worth a look, because we Americans still have many misconceptions about how health insurance and healthcare work in other countries.

Many on the left, for example, are convinced that all other developed countries have single-payer insurance, and that’s just not true. Some are indeed single payer (Canada, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and Italy, for example), but many other countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, and Japan, give people a choice of private insurance companies.

What distinguishes other countries is that everybody or almost everybody is insured, and the government does a much better job of regulation, producing a system that is generally less complicated than ours and with lower overhead. Even in the U.S., Medicare and Medicaid spend a lower higher percentage of their budgets on overhead than private insurance companies. I once heard an executive of a U.S. health insurer complain that the comparison was unfair, because Medicare and Medicaid don’t have to make a profit for shareholders or spend money on sales and marketing. To which one might reasonably reply, “Exactly.”

Many conservatives believe that healthcare is worse outside the U.S., with long waits and severe rationing. Delays are indeed a problem some places, but in others seeing a doctor or getting elective surgery is typically faster than here, and most places you have a freer choice of doctors, with no worrying about whether the person treating you is “in-network.”

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