As Americans search for the cure to what ails our health-care system, we’ve overlooked an invaluable source of ideas and solutions: the rest of the world. All the other industrialized democracies have faced problems like ours, yet they’ve found ways to cover everybody — and still spend far less than we do…
1. It’s all socialized medicine out there.
Not so. Some countries, such as Britain, New Zealand and Cuba, do provide health care in government hospitals, with the government paying the bills. Others — for instance, Canada and Taiwan — rely on private-sector providers, paid for by government-run insurance. But many wealthy countries — including Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and Switzerland — provide universal coverage using private doctors, private hospitals and private insurance plans.
In some ways, health care is less “socialized” overseas than in the United States. Almost all Americans sign up for government insurance (Medicare) at age 65. In Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, seniors stick with private insurance plans for life. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is one of the planet’s purest examples of government-run health care.
2. Overseas, care is rationed through limited choices or long lines.
Generally, no. Germans can sign up for any of the nation’s 200 private health insurance plans — a broader choice than any American has. If a German doesn’t like her insurance company, she can switch to another, with no increase in premium. The Swiss, too, can choose any insurance plan in the country.
In France and Japan, you don’t get a choice of insurance provider; you have to use the one designated for your company or your industry. But patients can go to any doctor, any hospital, any traditional healer…You pick any doctor, you get treatment — and insurance has to pay…
In Japan, waiting times are so short that most patients don’t bother to make an appointment. One Thursday morning in Tokyo, I called the prestigious orthopedic clinic at Keio University Hospital to schedule a consultation about my aching shoulder. “Why don’t you just drop by?” the receptionist said. That same afternoon, I was in the surgeon’s office. Dr. Nakamichi recommended an operation. “When could we do it?” I asked. The doctor checked his computer and said, “Tomorrow would be pretty difficult. Perhaps some day next week?”