US Healthcare Overhaul: Five Lessons from Abroad

By Marks, Alexandra | The Christian Science Monitor, October 14, 2009 | Go to article overview

US Healthcare Overhaul: Five Lessons from Abroad


Marks, Alexandra, The Christian Science Monitor


In Singapore, hospitals publish the cost of every treatment, from hip replacement to dengue fever, so consumers can choose medical options as if they're buying jeans.

In Germany, people suffering from fatigue or back pain can get a three-week stay at a "wellness" retreat in the mountains - all paid for by health insurance.

In Taiwan, people who go to the hospital swipe a card that gives doctors their basic medical information - one reason the country has among the lowest healthcare administrative costs in the world.

Around the globe, many nations have innovative or unusual programs in their quest to provide the best healthcare for their citizens. Sometimes the programs work well. In other cases, they could use an MRI themselves.

As the United States grapples with the largest potential reform of the healthcare system in modern history, experts here have been scouring the world for lessons from other countries. One conclusion seems clear: No one has a flawless system.

Providing affordable medical care for citizens who want it is one of the most complex problems facing modern governments. Two fundamental forces - the rising cost of medical procedures and demographic changes that are leading more people through hospital doors - are spurring many governments, not just the US, to at least tinker with their systems.

Even so, it's also clear that the US faces singular challenges. Almost every country in the developed world ensures that all its citizens have access to some kind of care when they need or want it. The US is the exception.

Most countries also manage to provide that healthcare for about half the cost of the US and with better overall health outcomes, such as lower infant mortality rates, as well as with greater overall patient satisfaction.

"It's not likely that the US will adopt another country's healthcare system," says Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit research foundation that focuses on healthcare. "But it's important to look at some of the innovative things other countries are doing - we spend more than twice what other [major industrialized] countries do and are the only one that doesn't provide universal coverage."

Still, no cookie-cutter solution to the problem exists, either here or anywhere else. …

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