A new study published yesterday in Health Affairs indicates that issues associated with health insurance and access to healthcare are more troublesome for people here in the US than in several other developed countries. The study was conducted via phone interviews earlier this year with 19,000 adults in 11 countries (The US, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, The UK, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, and The Netherlands). This synopsis from The Commonwealth Fund has an easy-to-read chart that indicates the percentage of people in each country who went without care because of cost, had more than $1,000 in out of pocket costs, experienced major difficulty in paying medical bills, or had trouble with their health insurance. In all four categories, the US had the highest percentages.
Although many of the countries involved in the study have public health insurance systems, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Germany all have health insurance markets that allow residents to choose their health care plans. And yet people in those countries were all less likely to have spent significant amounts of time dealing with claims denials, disputes, and health insurance paperwork than people in the US (for people in the remaining countries, dealing with such circumstances was much more rare).
Another aspect of the study might come as a surprise to people who believe that access to care is delayed in other countries. In the US, 57% of people were able to see their doctor on the same day or the next day when they were sick and called for an appointment. But that number rose to 70% in the UK, 72% in The Netherlands, 78% in New Zealand, and 93% in Switzerland. However, the US did have among the shortest wait time to see a specialist.
While many studies comparing health care around the world tend to look at generalized data like life expectancies and total cost of healthcare, this one was more focused on how healthcare in each country impacts individual people, and whether people are satisfied with their health insurance, personal medical costs, and access to care. Somewhat surprisingly, British people who were surveyed reported almost no problems. The UK and the US stand out as being at opposite ends of the spectrum in the study, with the US having the highest percentage of people reporting problems, and the UK having the lowest percentages. The other countries were a bit of a mixed bag, although there might be aspects of several of their healthcare systems – including systems that utilize private health insurance – that could be implemented here in order to increase overall consumer satisfaction.