Whose Health Care Is Best? A Look at the Pros and Cons of 6 Countries’ Health Care Systems Across the World
With all of the recent threats to the Affordable Care Act by Republicans in Congress, and buzz among Democrats about a single-payer program, a lot of people are thinking about what type of care is best. Around the world, different countries have different policies in place for how health care is covered. Here’s a look at some countries' health care systems that are generally regarded as high-quality, how they work, and what people like (or don't) about them.
CANADA: Canada has "single-payer" health care. This means that the government pays for health insurance for citizens and permanent residents via taxes, and people receive care through (mostly) publicly funded hospitals and private doctors. Health insurance is handled by the individual provinces and then distributed to residents. The government itself does not provide care, but rather the insurance used to pay for care. (Photo via Morris MacMatzen/Getty)
Pros and cons: By far the best thing about health care in Canada is that everyone gets at least some care , regardless of their income or employment status. People who are poor and/or unemployed can still receive health care services, and not have to worry about destroying their savings or going into huge amounts of debt. Some people do complain of long wait times to receive care, particularly from specialists. The biggest downside to health care in Canada is that there are limits on what the government will cover. For example, most Canadians do not have all of their dental care covered by government funding, and prescription drugs are also paid for out-of-pocket. (Photo via Harry How/Getty)
UNITED KINGDOM: The United Kingdom has socialized health care, and health care is free of charge to everyone who is “ordinarily resident” in the UK. Undocumented immigrants and visitors to the UK can receive emergency services and treat infectious diseases free of charge as well. Overall, people are able to get vital health care services mostly for free. (Photo via Thomas Niedermueller/Getty)
Pros and cons: Citizens pay for their care in the form of taxes, but because the system is socialized, people who are poor can still receive the care they need. Citizens can also buy private health insurance if they want to, but only about 11 percent of people take advantage of this option. One recent complaint , however, is that the National Health Service (the government entity that manages health care for the UK) has cut funding for mental health services at a time when mental health issues are on the rise. And, as with Canada, there can be long wait times to see a doctor in the UK. (Photo via Christopher Furlong/Getty)
SWEDEN: Sweden also has a single-payer health care system , like Canada. The country’s health care is run on three levels: local, regional, and national. Coverage is universal and automatic, which means that all documented residents receive mostly free coverage for care, and emergency services are available for citizens who live in countries that also belong to the European Union. Sweden will also provide some free care to undocumented children, and children who are seeking asylum. (Photo via Justin Sullivan/ Getty)
Pros and cons: Since care is all already covered through taxation, there are typically no additional costs for patients. Care is widely regarded to be very high-quality too. But, again, the wait times to see doctors can be longer than patients may prefer. (Photo via David Ramos/Getty)
SINGAPORE: Singapore’s health care system is run pretty differently from the nations we’ve covered so far. In Singapore, people can receive health care services inexpensively or sometimes for free, and can also pay more to be treated in a private room with a doctor the patient chooses. There are varying tiers of care patients can pay for, or receive care for free, with fewer benefits. People in Singapore can also use health care savings funds to cover the cost of medical expenses. The Singaporean government pays for health care primarily via taxes, and regulates both private and government-funded insurance. (Photo via Scott Halleran/Getty)
Pros and cons: Singapore’s health care policies seem to work really well! Life expectancy is higher in Singapore than the UK and the United States, and the government spends significantly less on health care each year than the US does. But costs for some services have gone up in recent years, which means it can be harder for people with less income to pay for services that come out of their health care savings. (Photo via Rahman Roslan/Getty Images For Singapore River One)
FINLAND: Health care in Finland is handled on the level of municipalities, of which there are 450. Finland’s health care is universal, and offered to everyone regardless of their level of income. As with other countries that use single-payer or universal health care systems, health care in Finland is primarily government-funded through taxes. Care is primarily run by the government, but some private care is available for those who can and want to pay more for it. (Photo via Cameron Spencer/Getty)
Pros and cons: The care in Finland is excellent overall. The country's infant mortality rate is one of the lowest in Europe, and the costs to the government are relatively low on a yearly basis. While the outcomes are great and people receive high-quality care, there’s the persistent issue of wait times. As with other European countries, it can be a huge process to even make an appointment , and wait times to see a doctor can be long. (Photo via Johanes Simon/Getty)
CUBA: Cuba is governed by the Communist Party, which provides free universal healthcare. Even though Cuba has fewer financial resources than the United States, the country has a long legacy of quality care provided by the government, with a focus on preventative care . Unlike some other nations with universal health care, Cuba only has government-run hospitals and health care centers; there are no private hospitals. (Photo via Donald Miralle/Getty)
Pros and cons: Cuba’s healthcare system works very well, and considered by some experts to be a model example of how to run health care. Spending on health care is low compared to many other nations including the US, and the life expectancy rate is equal to that of the US. Cuba has also sent some of the country's many doctors abroad to developing nations in order to fill health care gaps outside of their own country. The emphasis on preventative care also means people are more likely to catch illnesses early, before they become difficult and more expensive to treat. From a patient’s perspective, and that of spending, there’s really not much up for complaint in Cuba’s health care system. (Photo via Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Which of these systems sound best to you? Tell us @BritandCo!
Elizabeth King is a politics, history, and culture writer based in the Twin Cities. She is generally pretty cranky but still enjoys traveling, music from the early 2000's, and plotting the resistance. Feel free to say hi on Twitter at @ekingc or check out some of her work at www.elizabethcking.com.