The Grass Is Not Always Greener: A Look at National Health Care Systems Around the World – Part 1

In the midst of our national debate about healthcare reform, people on both sides of the debate seem to pick and choose among the facts and myths about the nationalized healthcare available in a number of other countries. The fact is that every nationalized health care system in the world is battling issues of rapidly rising costs and decreasing access to care. But, these systems also have some very attractive benefits. So, let’s take a look at the pro’s and con’s of each system.

Michael Tanner, the director of health and welfare studies at the Cato Institute, is the coauthor of Healthy Competition: What’s Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It and the author of this series:

Critics of the U.S. health care system frequently point to other countries as models for reform. They point out that many countries spend far less on health care than the United States yet seem to enjoy better health outcomes. The United States should follow the lead of those countries, the critics say, and adopt a government- run, national health care system.

However, a closer look shows that nearly all health care systems worldwide are wrestling with problems of rising costs and lack of access to care. There is no single international model for national health care, of course.

Countries vary dramatically in the degree of central control, regulation, and cost sharing they impose, and in the role of private insurance. Still, overall trends from national health care systems around the world suggest the following:

Health insurance does not mean universal access to health care. In practice, many countries promise universal coverage but ration care or have long waiting lists for treatment.

Rising health care costs are not a uniquely American phenomenon. Although other countries spend considerably less than the United States on health care, both as a percentage of GDP and per capita, costs are rising almost everywhere, leading to budget deficits, tax increases, and benefit reductions.

In countries weighted heavily toward government control, people are most likely to face waiting lists, rationing, restrictions on physician choice, and other obstacles to care.

Countries with more effective national health care systems are successful to the degree that they incorporate market mechanisms such as competition, cost sharing, market prices, and consumer choice, and eschew centralized government control.

Although no country with a national health care system is contemplating abandoning universal coverage, the broad and growing trend is to move away from centralized government control and to introduce more market-oriented features.

The answer then to America’s health care problems lies not in heading down the road to national health care but in learning from the experiences of other countries, which demonstrate the failure of centralized command and control and the benefits of increasing consumer incentives and choice.

Here are links to the entire series: The Grass Is Not Always Greener: A Look at National Health Care Systems Around the World

  1. Introduction
  2. Canada
  3. Great Britain
  4. France
  5. Germany
  6. Japan
  7. Norway
  8. Spain
  9. Italy
  10. Switzerland

In future blogs, we’ll look at:

  • Friday, 9/25 Health Care in Canada
  • Friday, 10/2 Health Care in Great Britain
  • Friday, 10/9 Health Care in France
  • Friday, 10/16 Health Care in Germany
  • Friday, 10/23 Health Care in Japan
  • Friday, 10/30 Health Care in Norway
  • Friday, 11/6 Health Care in Spain
  • Friday, 11/13 Health Care in Italy
  • Friday, 11/20 Health Care in Switzerland

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