NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 14, 2008

Critics of the U.S. health care system frequently point to other countries as models for reform. They point out that many countries spend far less on health care than the United States yet seem to enjoy better health outcomes.  However, a closer look shows that nearly all health care systems worldwide are wrestling with problems of rising costs and lack of access to care, says Michael Tanner, director of Health and Welfare Studies at the Cato Institute.

Countries vary dramatically in the degree of central control, regulation and cost sharing they impose, and in the role of private insurance.  Still, overall trends from national health care systems around the world suggest the following:

  • Health insurance does not mean universal access to health care; many countries promise universal coverage, but they ration care or have long waiting lists for treatment.
  • Although other countries spend less than the United States on health care, costs are rising almost everywhere, leading to budget deficits, tax increases and benefit reductions.
  • In countries weighted heavily toward government control, people are most likely to face waiting lists, rationing, restrictions on physician choice and other obstacles to care.
  • Countries with more effective national health care systems are successful to the degree that they incorporate market mechanisms such as competition, cost sharing, market prices and consumer choice, and eschew centralized government control.

The answer then to America's health care problems lies not in heading down the road to national health care but in learning from the experiences of other countries, which demonstrate the failure of centralized command and control and the benefits of increasing consumer incentives and choice, says Tanner.

Source: Michael D. Tanner, " The Grass Is Not Always Greener: A Look At National Health Care Systems Around The World," CATO Institute, March 18, 2008.

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