Healthcare: International Perspectives

Image credit Bill Branson.

Image credit Bill Branson.

Unless you’ve had your nose buried in your textbooks (hey, it’s midterm exam season!), you’ve probably noticed that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, has been in the news again lately.  This bill became a law in March 2010, was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in June 2012, and has become a part of the current budget debate.  The ACA requires most individuals to be covered by health insurance or pay a penalty — if you aren’t covered in 2014, you’ll have to pay the greater of $95 or 1% of your income for the year come tax time in 2015.

Because the ACA’s Health Insurance Marketplace officially opened for business on October 1, we thought we’d take the opportunity to look at healthcare from an international perspective.

In 2011, The Commonwealth Fund, a private, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring high-quality, accessible health systems, issued a report comparing the United States’ health system to that of eleven other industrialized nations:  Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.  Here’s a brief summary of what they found:

  • Per capita healthcare spending in the U.S. is substantially higher than all the other nations studied.  In fact, it was more than twice as much as spending in half the countries in the study and a whopping 16% of GDP.

    Click to enlarge.

    Click to enlarge.

  • The average person in the U.S. visits the doctor fewer times per year (4) than the average person in the other studied countries (6.9).
  • The U.S. has the fewest practicing physicians per 1,000 people of the 10 countries with data available (meaning access to doctors is more limited in the U.S.).
  • The U.S. uses the most prescription drugs, and has the most expensive prescription drugs of the countries studied. Further, prescription drug prices rise at the highest rates in the U.S.
  • The U.S. did not rank highest for measures of performance, though (the results were mixed), indicating U.S. prices aren’t highest just because its system offers the highest quality.

In the future, we’ll take a closer look at how some of the healthcare systems in other countries operate.  Until then, read The Commonwealth Fund’s full report here, and visit to check out the new Health Insurance Marketplace!


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