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Healthcare in the US vs. the UK

The healthcare systems in the U.K. and U.S. are vastly different, although the health-care system in the U.S. is currently undergoing changes that will address one of the key areas where it has been criticized — in terms of universal coverage.


The healthcare systems of the US and the UK are very differentThe U.K. offers universal healthcare coverage to all its citizens and there is no charge at the point of service. Tax levies cover the cost of health care. General practitioners offer most of the country’s health-care services and more advanced care is accessed by referral. In the cases of non-emergency surgical needs, patients may face extended waiting times. This system is criticized because it can result in waiting times of more than a year for people in need of health services, there is a great deal of bureaucracy to be navigated when attempting to receive health care, and the quality of the care and services offered may not be as high as is offered in countries that offer private insurance coverage.

Private Insurance

In the U.S., insurance coverage is offered to those willing and able to pay for it through their employers. This system has been criticized for the burden it places on employers who are forced to purchase and subsidize insurance coverage for workers. This type of system favors those who are willing and able to pay by providing them with greater access to the best physicians, hospitals and technologies.

People who are unemployed or underemployed are sometimes unable to obtain health insurance due to the cost, these people must either pay for doctor visits and medical care on their own, or take advantage of the current government-run health care systems, i.e. Medicare and Medicaid and Veterans Hospitals. These government systems, however, often requires long waiting times and many physicians do not accept this coverage. This may lead some to use hospital emergency rooms for all health-care needs, rather than seeing a private physician which can drive hospital costs up. Although many private physicians offer special rates and services for those without insurance.

ObamaCare, which is about to take effect in the U.S., is aiming to address this by requiring all citizens to purchase health care insurance and all employers to offer it. There is a great deal of concern that this will increase the cost of health care insurance to all due to the provision that requires insurers to accept those with pre-existing conditions like Cancer and AIDS that could be extremely costly to insurance companies.

Keeping Citizens Healthy

Because the U.K. system is open to all, there is a greater emphasis on preventative care than in the U.S. The U.S. tends to focus on managing pain and treating illness, whereas the U.K. system aims to keep its citizens healthy and able to avoid the need for advanced care. Although according to the NHS “Despite the strong official commitment to developing a patient-led service, our results suggest the UK is not performing well when it comes to involving patients in their care.”

One of the biggest areas of criticism for the U.S. system of health care is in terms of medical billing. Because most people are covered by medical insurance, costs for medications, hospital stays and expensive medical tests, which are usually covered by insurance, have increased exponentially. Drug companies can charge whatever they wish for their products and as a result, many charge up to 50 percent more in the U.S. as they do in other countries. Very often, U.S. residents are shocked by the itemized bills they receive, particularly following a hospital stay.

How the U.K. Keeps Costs Down

Because equipment and medication can be purchased in bulk by the U.K.’s national health care system, costs can be kept lower. Salaries for doctors are not as high in the U.K. They are protected by professional associations from lawsuits, unlike U.S. physicians who must pay high premiums to private malpractice insurers. In some specialties, particularly obstetrics and gynecology, this has resulted in a shortage of physicians willing to practice in the U.S.

Unfortunately, in the U.K. there has been some evidence that this cost cutting has resulted in deaths or inferior care for some classes of individuals such as the elderly and mentally ill. 5,000 elderly ‘killed each year’ by lack of care beds  and the BBC recently reported this regarding the state of mental illness care “Interventions are taken later and later because of a lack of resources and beds and we are living in a more demanding and violent society where people are showing increasingly challenging behaviour” some have even called it “health care rationing”.

Both the U.K. and U.S. systems of healthcare are undergoing dramatic changes. Neither system is perfect, both attempt to provide patients with the best possible health care, despite the restrictions that are placed upon them.

See Also:


Beating Obamacare: Your Handbook for the New Healthcare Law The Health Care Handbook The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care Harvard Business Review on Fixing Healthcare from Inside & Out

 Sarah Daren is a writer who creates informative articles relating to the field of health. In this article, she describes aspects of healthcare and aims the encourage further study with a UC online health information management degree.

Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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