Five Myths about health care

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5 myths about health care round the world by By T.R. Reid, Commentary, Washington Post (hat tip Mark Thoma)

…I’ve traveled the world … to see how other developed democracies provide health care. Instead of dismissing these models as “socialist,” we could adapt their solutions to fix our problems. To do that, we first have to dispel a few myths about health care abroad:

1. It’s all socialized medicine out there. Not so. … In some ways, health care is less “socialized” overseas than in the United States. Almost all Americans sign up for government insurance (Medicare) at age 65. In Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, seniors stick with private insurance plans for life. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is one of the planet’s purest examples of government-run health care….
(the rest of the article is below the fold)

2. Overseas, care is rationed through limited choices or long lines. Generally, no. Germans can sign up for any of the nation’s 200 private health insurance plans — a broader choice than any American has. … The Swiss, too, can choose any insurance plan in the country.

In France and Japan, you … can go to any doctor, any hospital, any traditional healer. There are no U.S.-style limits such as “in-network” lists of doctors or “pre-authorization” for surgery. You pick any doctor, you get treatment — and insurance has to pay. …

As for those notorious waiting lists, some countries are indeed plagued by them. Canada makes patients wait weeks or months for nonemergency care, as a way to keep costs down. But … many nations — Germany, Britain, Austria — outperform the United States on measures such as waiting times for appointments and for elective surgeries. In Japan, waiting times are so short that most patients don’t bother to make an appointment. …

3. Foreign health-care systems are inefficient, bloated bureaucracies. Much less so than here. …

4. Cost controls stifle innovation. False. The United States is home to groundbreaking medical research, but so are other countries… Any American who’s had a hip or knee replacement is standing on French innovation. … Many of the wonder drugs promoted endlessly on American television, including Viagra, come from British, Swiss or Japanese labs. Overseas, strict cost controls actually drive innovation. …

5. Health insurance has to be cruel. Not really. American health insurance companies routinely reject applicants with a “preexisting condition”… They employ armies of adjusters to deny claims. If a customer … faces big medical bills, the insurer’s “rescission department” digs through the records looking for grounds to cancel the policy… Foreign health insurance companies, in contrast, must accept all applicants, and they can’t cancel as long as you pay your premiums. …

In many ways, foreign health-care models are not really “foreign” to America, because our … system uses elements of all of them. For Native Americans or veterans, we’re Britain: The government provides health care, funding it through general taxes, and patients get no bills. For people who get insurance through their jobs, we’re Germany: Premiums are split between workers and employers, and private insurance plans pay private doctors and hospitals. For people over 65, we’re Canada: Everyone pays premiums for an insurance plan run by the government, and the public plan pays private doctors and hospitals according to a set fee schedule. And for the tens of millions without insurance coverage, we’re Burundi or Burma: In the world’s poor nations, sick people pay out of pocket for medical care…

This fragmentation is another reason that we spend more than anybody else and still leave millions without coverage. All the other developed countries have settled on one model for health-care delivery and finance; we’ve blended them all into a costly, confusing bureaucratic mess.

Which, in turn, punctures the most persistent myth of all: that America has “the finest health care” in the world. We don’t. In terms of results, almost all advanced countries have better national health statistics than the United States… In terms of finance, we force 700,000 Americans into bankruptcy each year because of medical bills. In France, the number of medical bankruptcies is zero. Britain: zero. Japan: zero. Germany: zero.

Given our remarkable medical assets — the best-educated doctors and nurses, the most advanced hospitals, world-class research — the United States … should be the best in the world. To get there, though, we have to be willing to learn some lessons about health-care … from the other industrialized democracies.

There are, of course, groups that have a strong interest in perpetuating these myths as part of their attempt to block health care reform.

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