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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sick Around the World: Reflections

The complexity of the US health care system can overwhelm even an expert: both private and public come into play to provide a wide range of health services to the whooping three hundred million population of the country. The US is one of the richest countries in the world, yet, our health care ranks 37th(!!) in terms of quality and fairness. Undoubtedly, the system has its flaws, which became recognized by the government. Health care reform is aimed at improving access to health care and controlling its rising costs. It makes me wonder if the government learned any lessons from other capitalist countries that recently faced the same challenge.
After watching an eye-opening movie by US correspondent T.Reid Sick Around the World, I came to realize that various developed countries addressed the problems of health care access, quality, and cost in various ways. We can learn our lessons from Taiwan, but would it be wise to adapt the reform that was implemented in the country which economy at the time much differed from the well-developed US economy? We can learn our lessons from Japan, but would it be wise to compare US population to the population of the country with the longest life expectancy that may be due to a much healthier lifestyle and diet? We can also learn our lesson from Germany, but would it be wise to compare our physicians’ cost of education and malpractice insurance to their colleagues’ from “the other side of the pond”? I suppose, out of five health care systems, an amateur spectator like me would consider the one of Switzerland. First, a health care reform took place in the country where the system used to be similar to ours, with voluntary coverage. Second, the reform was recent – 1990’s. Third, the country’s stable capitalistic economy can somewhat be compared to the economy of the US.

T.Reid makes a very important point when he says that everyone has the right to vote, everyone has the right for a fair trial, so everyone should have a right to health care. If Switzerland could do it with eight million people, so can we, with three hundred and eleven. There are several reasons, why I think the model works. One of the key features of the reform is to reduce health care costs, and Switzerland has done so by reducing administrative costs, which a sky-high in the US. Next, the insurance companies compete for clients despite being non-profit organizations and offering the exact same benefit packet to the public. In a healthy economy, competition should always be present to ensure that there is a continuing effort for improvement. No one can be denied health insurance due to a re-existing condition, yet there is still room for insurance companies to make profit on the supplemental insurance. Another crucial component of the Switzerland’s health care system is its affordability: even though a seven hundred and fifty dollars monthly premium is a costly expense, it is still much cheaper than what we pay in the US. On top of that, the government controls prices on prescription medications – a concept unheard of in the US where a poor elderly person can be spending over a half of their monthly income on drugs…
To sum it up, I would like to share a personal story. A young American couple had their first born in one of the local hospitals. Soon it became clear that the infant was seriously ill; it took the best physicians in the country almost two month to diagnose the baby with a rare genetic disorder – APEX syndrome. The family spent an entire year of the baby’s short life in the hospital. In the end, they were left with a profound sense of loss and a monstrous bill that the new family could afford, even with health insurance. Sadly, such stories happen in our country. In Switzerland, this would have been a huge national scandal.  So wherever we learn our lessons from, we are definitely over-due for some change in the health care system.

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