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U.S. healthcare vs. U.K. healthcare: How is it different?

22-07-2012

Summary:  A look at the differing healthcare systems in the U.S. and U.K.

With healthcare constantly in the news these days, you may be wondering how the American system compares to that of other developed nations. The United Kingdom is a good starting point for comparison on account of the cultural and economic similarities between the two countries. Read on to learn more about healthcare costs, administration and quality on each side of the pond.

Whose Responsibility Is It?

One difference between American and British healthcare is immediately obvious: The U.K. has a government-run healthcare provider, known as the National Health Service, whereas the United States does not. The NHS, as it is known, is charged with providing health insurance coverage without exception for all British citizens. In other words, it's the British government's responsibility to ensure that the country’s residents have adequate protection against illness and injury.

In the United States, individuals are expected to procure their own health insurance plans. Employers often shoulder this burden, making health coverage a key benefit of traditional employment in the U.S., although there appears to be a long-term trend away from the costly high-quality employer-provided policies.

Folks who don't have a full-time job or can't get group insurance for any other reason have to purchase individual health insurance plans, which can be expensive, or join the more than 40 million Americans without insurance. Some low income Americans are eligible for government assistance with healthcare via a federal program called Medicaid or state programs.

Healthcare Not Warfare Rally outside the Capitol

Who Pays?

As you might expect, British citizens subsidize their country's healthcare system via taxation, hence the "public healthcare system" designation.

American healthcare, by contrast, derives its funding from a wide variety of public and private sources. Medicare and Medicaid, which are government-run healthcare services for the country's older and lower-income residents, are largely taxpayer-funded. Private health insurance plans, on the other hand, are funded directly either by insured individuals or their employers.

Who Treats?

While they may share a basic body of medical knowledge, doctors' roles differ considerably between the two countries. In the U.K., the NHS requires each individual to register with a primary care doctor, known as a "General Practitioner." These doctors receive most of their income directly from the NHS, eliminating the American problem of unpredictable private-insurance payouts.

The market-driven American healthcare system is far more specialized, mostly because specialists like dermatologists and elective surgeons make far more money and often have less-demanding work schedules compared to general practitioners. This arrangement is responsible for the perennial shortage of primary-care doctors in the United States.

What's the Better Deal?

Healthcare professionals in both the U.S. and U.K. are generally competent, but most experts agree that the U.K.'s public insurance system sacrifices some measure of quality in favor of predictability and cost control.

Waits for elective surgeries often stretch out for years in the United Kingdom, whereas Americans willing and able to pay for such things are often able to get them with little delay. Some also argue that the market-driven U.S. healthcare system rewards high-quality doctors, helping to attract the brightest and the best into the field.

John Reynolds contributed this article on behalf of PrivateHealthcare.net where you can Read this review on Axa private care plans and get more information on leading private insurance plans.

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