The cost of healthcare in America
Healthcare is absolutely fundamental—a basic human right, and a necessity for every single person as and when they need it. UK citizens are lucky with their National Health Service (NHS), hailed as one of the best healthcare systems in the world, a public health service funded by taxpayer contributions. The NHS works by taking a portion of taxpayer contributions to sustain its budget (around £136bn), but this means that the majority of treatments are free at the point of use, requiring only a small financial subsidy for things like medicinal prescriptions or dental treatment.
However, other countries are not so lucky. Take America as a prime example: one of the world’s superpowers, and the country with the largest economy ($18.5 trillion), yet whose healthcare system is one of the most complex—and expensive—in the world. Unlike the UK's egalitarian system of offering everyone the same entitlement of free healthcare, America instead works on a hybrid system which in the main relies on each citizen contributing towards their own individual health insurance policy.
As of 2014, 89.6% of the U.S population had some type of health insurance (equivalent of 283.2m people), 66% of which were covered by a private health insurance plan. However, worryingly, this meant that 11.4% (32.9m) of people in 2014 had no health insurance at all. Research from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that healthcare funded at least partly by an employer had an average insurance premium of $17,545 per year—assuming that each of America’s 283.3m insured Americans made at least one claim against their medical insurance (which is not beyond the realms of impossibility), this amounts to a huge $4.9 billion each year.
The whole medical industry in the U.S is a minefield, a complicated (and highly expensive) business. A typical night in a hospital in the U.S tips the scale at $5,220, a figure that becomes all the more shocking when compared to other advanced countries like Spain ($424) and Australia ($765). And to have a baby? Americans would be looking at a bill of $10,808 for the joyous occasion, nearly double the cost in Australia ($5,312) and a massive 81% more expensive than Spain’s $1,950 fee—a figure that would skyrocket to $16,106 if requiring a Caesarean (C-section) birth.
Therefore, given how expensive everyday healthcare services cost in the U.S, it comes as no great surprise that the American populace as a whole visit the doctors less than other major countries (which is perhaps a good thing, considering that America has less hospitals per capita than most European countries). A shocking 2012 study from the Commonwealth Fund’s Biennial Health Insurance Study found that some 80 million people (equivalent to around 43% of America’s working-age adults) did not visit a doctor or access other medical services because of the restrictive costs involved. This is up 6.6% from 75 million in 2010, and a significant 19% (63m) from 2003. Even more worryingly, a huge 49 million people skipped recommended care because of the costs of American healthcare. But for those who don’t have a choice but to go to the Emergency Room? It seems that the cost of healthcare is catching up to them, with Time Magazine reporting that 1 in 4 (25%) of American adults under the age of 65 are plagued with unpaid medical bills.
Despite people deliberately avoiding necessary trips to the doctor, Government spending on healthcare per capita in the U.S is higher than any other OECD country, in 2013 spending $8,713 per person on healthcare. This equates to 16.4% of its overall GDP, far higher than the OECD average of 8.9% per person. This begs the question—given America’s economic firepower, and dedication to providing funding to its health system, why can't it have its own version of the NHS?