Health Care Myths

September 10th, 2009

In today’s health care debate in America, comparisons are routinely made to the health care systems of other countries.  Those comparisons are often distorted by misinformation and misunderstanding about how other countries deal with the problems of delivering quality health care while controlling costs.

It’s self-evident that the U.S. must find a way to control escalating health care costs and guarantee universal access, while maintaining the very high quality of health care now available to those who can get it.  Proposals now in Congress on how to do this are fatally flawed and are being pushed too hard to try to meet artificial deadlines.  We can and should consider how other industrialized countries deal with these problems, but we have to do it on the basis of facts, not myths and distortions.

In 5 Myths About Health Care Around the World in The Washington Post, T.R. Reid addresses the five most common of these misunderstandings.  His explanations, while brief, are a useful contribution to the debate.  His conclusions:

In many ways, foreign health-care models are not really “foreign” to America, because our crazy-quilt health-care system uses elements of all of them. For Native Americans or veterans, we’re Britain: The government provides health care, funding it through general taxes, and patients get no bills. For people who get insurance through their jobs, we’re Germany: Premiums are split between workers and employers, and private insurance plans pay private doctors and hospitals. For people over 65, we’re Canada: Everyone pays premiums for an insurance plan run by the government, and the public plan pays private doctors and hospitals according to a set fee schedule. And for the tens of millions without insurance coverage, we’re Burundi or Burma: In the world’s poor nations, sick people pay out of pocket for medical care; those who can’t pay stay sick or die.

This fragmentation is another reason that we spend more than anybody else and still leave millions without coverage. All the other developed countries have settled on one model for health-care delivery and finance; we’ve blended them all into a costly, confusing bureaucratic mess.

Which, in turn, punctures the most persistent myth of all: that America has “the finest health care” in the world. We don’t. In terms of results, almost all advanced countries have better national health statistics than the United States does. In terms of finance, we force 700,000 Americans into bankruptcy each year because of medical bills. In France, the number of medical bankruptcies is zero. Britain: zero. Japan: zero. Germany: zero.

Given our remarkable medical assets — the best-educated doctors and nurses, the most advanced hospitals, world-class research — the United States could be, and should be, the best in the world. To get there, though, we have to be willing to learn some lessons about health-care administration from the other industrialized democracies. 

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2 Responses to “Health Care Myths”

  1. doris |

    We need national healthcare,but I’m not sure the plan Obama has is all good.I really don’t want to have to,be forced to, pay for healthcare,in case I overspend on other things.Irresponsible?yes,but how many people do you know like that{not me},Gov. help would be good,but forced to have insurance for health,like auto insurance,really ,well,sucks.If illegals won’t be covered,do they still go to the hospital for indigent care,but we can’t?Canadas and Britains systems sound best to me,but I understand you wait a long time for elective surgery,but you do get it,as some here never get it,they can’t afford it.We need help,our insurance just went up 82. dollars a month,for no reason,highway robbery.Help!

  2. Brian Bagent |

    Doris, it isn’t just elective surgery that you have to wait for. Why do you think it is that the 5-year survival rate for the 4 most common cancers (breast, prostate, colo-rectal, and skin) are higher here than anywhere else in the world (yes, including Canada and all of Europe)?

    As a nation, we spend roughly 2X (as a percentage of Gross Domestic product) as much on health care as Canada or the UK. From the cancer survival rates alone, clearly we are getting something for our money. Our health care system needs fixing, but nationalizing it is going to make it worse for everyone except the politically connected. Tom linked a brilliant article a couple days ago that identifies the biggest problem. I disagree with much of the author’s solution, but his analysis of the problem is spot on.

    If the actual consumer of health care services were paying the bill, the prices involved in health care delivery would do the same thing that prices in other markets do: they would come down. As long as insurance and the federal government pay for most of our health care, there is no incentive for providers to compete (which drives prices down).

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