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Susan Cody: America - Heal Thyself! Why We May Need To Look Outside America to Fix America's Healthcare

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A new documentary was aired yesterday on Frontline (PBS) called "Sick Around the World." This documentary focuses on health care in five capitalistic democracies - the United Kingdom, Japan, Switzerland, Germany and Taiwan.

It's findings are surprising to some who are used to the American system of private-only health insurance (along with the Medicaid/Medicare systems). What they find is that most countries offer private insurance to go alongside the universal systems and these private systems allow people to 'upgrade' to better hospitals, to chose their specialist if they prefer, and to have a private room as opposed to a free semi private room. It allows them more choice. Insurance companies are not allowed to "cherry pick" whom they insure and individuals have more of a say in their own health insurance process. Paperwork and administration costs are far less.

What they also see in the universal system are long wait times to see consultants and specialists. But in general, the overall satisfaction with health care is higher in these countries.


The Swiss system is fascinating. Like Hillary Clinton's proposed plan, the Swiss are required by law to carry health insurance. It is bought like life insurance or car insurance - sitting down and working out a favorable plan with an insurer. And it's costly - about $750 per month per family. How is this considered universal health care, you may well ask? Well, no employers are involved, and, according to a report by the Dallas Morning News "...the Swiss have the freedom to see any doctor in their canton [state], and they don't have long waits. And Swiss health-care providers have much less paperwork than their U.S. counterparts.

In 2003, Switzerland spent an average of $3,781 per person on health care. The United States spent $5,635 per person, according to an October report of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

While everyone in Switzerland is obliged to buy insurance, the 87 Swiss health insurance companies also have to offer a basic health-care plan priced without regard to risk.

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