The PBS show “Frontline” filmed an episode on the “Sick around the World”. The program’s correspondent T.R. Reid, flew around the world to take a look at five other healthcare systems; the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, and Switzerland. He spoke to doctors, citizens, and health economists about the levels of coverage, the amounts of uninsured, doctor salaries, patient premiums, and if their citizens ever go bankrupt as do ours because of their medical bills. Near the end of the episode he explained what he thought to be the three most important similarities between the healthcare systems he examined:
1) Insurance companies must accept everyone and can’t make a profit
2) Everyone must purchase insurance while the poor are subsidized
3) Health providers must deal with fixed prices.
Medical bankruptcy is unheard of in any of those countries examined. Most of those countries had a system somewhere in-between government or market run. Britain’s healthcare is run as a part of the government with its employees on a government payroll. Other countries such as Switzerland were largely market run but with government interventions designed to keep healthcare affordable and available for all. Japan’s health system is private; with private doctors and private hospitals but prices are set and coverage is universal. The German healthcare system is covered by different sickness funds which employers sign up for. The Taiwanese healthcare system was designed much later than the rest and has facets from all of the above. I want to discuss Britain’s healthcare system more because it is so different from our own.
The healthcare system of Britain is a bureau of the government; the National Health Service (NHS). Physicians are government employees who enjoy six figure salaries while still able to enjoy extremely generous bonuses (~$180,000) if their patients enjoy better health outcomes. In the British model a citizen seeking healthcare must first see their general practitioner (GP) who acts as a “gatekeeper” into the healthcare system. While the general practitioner in America has been facing hardships and isn’t a specialty considered by very many medical students because of its historically lower salaries, the British GP “…can’t complain”; they are responsible for on average 1800 people. There is hardly any wait to see a GP but operations can have wait periods of a couple months. Britain is a western and technologically advanced country. Its medicine is biomedically founded just as ours is in America. But while we generally see a physician when we feel sick, Britain’s see their physicians much more regularly. Preventative medicine is key in their country and GPs promote a plethora of health behaviors.
All information/facts/figures come from:
Frontline: Sick Around the World, Public Broadcast Station,