Friday, August 28, 2009

Redux: NHS vs. American Health Care

A reader pointed out that my post yesterday was very, very long - which is fine, apart from when you painstakingly dissect facts and figures and suffix it all with a statement like 'but that's all irrelevant to the matter at hand.' So, because Shakespeare said that 'brevity is the soul of wit' here is the same column with the fluff removed:

72% of NHS patients complain that the stethoscope is too cold

Comparing the British NHS to American Health Care
Now with 50% less superfluous exposition!

Comparing the NHS and the current health care system in the United States isn't really fair or helpful.

On the one hand, the American system can be criticized for being monstrously expensive and not covering enough of its citizens. Per capita, it costs twice as much to offer health care to the population of the United States - yet Fox News reports that 13.4% of Americans are still left without coverage.

The United Kingdom, on the other hand, has universal coverage, a lower rate of infant mortality and a longer average life expectancy. The cost of giving medical coverage to Britain's citizens is also several thousand dollars less per person than in America.

But while Britain's health care is cheaper and covers the whole population, many people argue that this is only possible thanks to the indirect benefits of America's privately funded system.

It's a fact that many of the worlds leading pharmaceutical companies are based in the United States - and most of the new and exciting drugs and treatments emerge from the American health care system. The US system absorbs the related costs of researching and developing these new treatments (perhaps explaining why their health care costs so much more.)

And without having to pay for 'inventing' them, British patients benefit from these new drugs and treatments - just not immediately. Most commonly prescribed medication is as much as a decade 'behind' the new and exciting drugs available in America.

But at least British patients don't have to pay for that development - and that cuts a huge chunk out of the related costs of running a universal health care system.

Perhaps that's not a fair analysis - but it does offer an explanation for the gross disparity between the costs of universal health care in Britain and America's privately funded system.

America's race to develop new treatments also explains why some areas of medicine - like the treatment of cancer - are notably 'better' in America than in the UK.

Some British people have to come to America to get the medical treatment that's simply not available to them at home. Meanwhile, drugs developed in America make a huge impact when they're eventually adopted by the NHS.

So it's fair to argue that the two systems are inextricably linked - and the discussion about changing the way America looks after the health of her 300 million citizens actually affects far more people than just those with a US passport.

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