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Healthcare Face-off US vs. UK

Since the advent of Obamacare there has been a great debate about U.S. vs. U.K. healthcare. Today we will look at how they compare.

A large number of people in the US and UK have some form of health insurance. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 64.2% of Americans aged between 18 and 64 have some form of private health coverage. On the same note, 53.3% of children under the age of 18 have private insurance and a further 41% have the federally funded Medicaid coverage. In the UK, most people can access medical care because the public sector funds medical care through taxation. However, 11% of the UK population has private insurance according to figures published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Key Differences between US and UK Healthcare Systems

Healthcare UK vs USFirstly, in the United States, one can call a doctor of his or her choice and make an appointment. In comparison, people living in the UK have to register with a GP in order to access treatment.

Secondly, medical care is free at point of delivery in the UK and a patient has to pay for prescription drugs, dental services, and ophthalmic services. Nevertheless, the elderly, children, and the unemployed do not have to pay these charges. Patients in the United States have to pay for every hospital visit, prescription, and medical test.

Below is an overview of health insurance premiums in both the US and the UK.

Health Insurance Premiums in the US

According to a report published by the National Conference of State Legislatures, employer sponsored family health insurance premiums stand at $16,351 in 2013. In 2012, the same coverages stood as $15,745. In addition, the average American employee has to pay about $4,565 toward the cost of his or her coverage.

Research carried out by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET) found that the cost of premiums has gone up by 80% since 2003. During the same period, wages have increased by 31% and inflation by 27%. This has forced some Americans to forgo medical insurance. In fact, a study carried out by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that the number of uninsured Americans has increased steadily since the late 1980s.

Health Insurance Premiums in the UK

In most cases, the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS) provides medical care to people living in the UK. Figures published by the NHS show that it spent about £104.333 billion during the 2011/2012 financial year. For the small number of people with private insurance, the average annual premium for private medical care is around £1,092, according to figures published by Private Healthcare UK. With this in mind, one can buy comprehensive medical insurance, self-pay protect, or a budget policy. Prices of such insurance generally vary depending on factors such as age, location, and medical history. The problem with private insurance is it does not guarantee access to the best medical care in the event of an emergency or illness. According to ABI, people who pay less often have limited choice of hospitals available to them and vice versa. In addition, you should expect to pay more the older you get.

However, according to Wikipedia “In the fiscal year 2007-08, total government revenue was 39.2 per cent of GDP, with net taxes and National Insurance contributions standing at 36.9 per cent of GDP.” In other word, the UK government spent between 37% and 40% of all the money spent in the UK. And where does that money come from? Taxes. According to the Tax Policy Center the U.S. government on the other hand spent 17.6% of 2008 GDP. Thus the US government spends roughly half as much  as the UK government as a percentage of GDP. According to the OECD the average “all-in” taxes for a couple with 2 children in the U.K. is 24.9% while the average U.S. couple with 2 children only pays 10.4% in income taxes. So although U.S. citizens pay more for health insurance they have a greater percentage of their income left to do so.

Access to Medical Care

CDC statistics show that 6.5% of Americans cannot access treatment due to financial constraints although Public hospitals are not allowed to turn patients away and therefore the paying patients end up covering the costs for services used by those unable to pay.  A study published in the journal Health Affairs found that one in five Americans suffer from “unmet medical needs.” On the other hand, people living in the UK fare much better because 70% of patients in the UK receive treatment within 24 hours in comparison to 57% of patients in the US. This is according to research carried out by the Commonwealth Fund. Access to healthcare in the U.K. is regulated by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) which has the final say as to who is covered or not. Decisions about funding are taken by local NHS bodies (primary care trusts and hospital trusts) after considering how well a particular procedure works and whether it represents value for money for the NHS.

All said, health insurance premiums in America and the United Kingdom vary greatly. In general, Americans pay more for such coverage than their counterparts in the UK but pay lower taxes and have more freedom of choice.

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Image courtesy of dream designs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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