According to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, health care ranks third on the list of voters' concerns, behind the economy and Iraq. The U.S. health care system is the world's most expensive medical system, yet 47 million people are without coverage, and hundreds of thousands of people go into bankruptcy each year due to medical bills.
I'd like to thank Dr. Gise for sending me the link to the FRONTLINE online video Sick Around the World. It's about an our long and in it, Washington Post foreign correspondent T.R. Reid finds out how five other capitalist democracies - the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland - deliver universal health care, and what the United States might learn from their successes and their failures. Following are excerpts from the website.
• In the U.K., the government-run National Health Service (NHS) is funded through taxes. "Every single person who's born in the U.K. will use the NHS," says Whittington Hospital CEO David Sloman, "and none of them will be presented a bill at any point during that time."
• In Japan, which has the best health statistics in the world, by law, everyone must buy health insurance - either through an employer or a community plan - and, unlike in the U.S., insurers cannot turn down a patient for a pre-existing illness, nor are they allowed to make a profit.
• In Germany, the country that invented the concept of a national health care system, Professor Karl Lauterbach, a member of the German parliament, describes it as "a system where the rich pay for the poor and where the ill are covered by the healthy."
• In Taiwan, the government collects the money and pays providers. Every person in Taiwan has a "smart card" containing all of his or her relevant health information, and bills are paid automatically.
• In Switzerland, insurance companies are not allowed to make a profit on basic medical care.
• According to Ried, it's not all "socialized medicine" out there. Many countries provide universal coverage with private insurance, private doctors, and private hospitals. These capitalist countries don't trust health care entirely to the free market. They all impose limits: (1) Insurance companies must accept everyone and can't make a profit on basic care. (2) Everybody's mandated to buy insurance, and the government pays the premium for the poor. (3) Doctors and hospitals have to accept one standard set of fixed prices.
• These foreign health care ideas aren't really so foreign to us. For American veterans, health care is just like Britain's NHS. For seniors on Medicare, we're Taiwan. For working Americans with insurance, we're Germany. And for the tens of million without health insurance, we're just another poor country.
Almost all of us can agree that this fragmented health care mess cannot be ignored. The longer we leave it, the sicker it becomes, and the more expensive the cure.
Okay, now go watch the video. It's entertaining & very informative at the same time.