Kate Middleton’s closely watched pregnancy revealed many of the benefits of Britain’s single-payer health care system. While the Duchess of Cambridge’s maternity care was exceptional given her stature, it turns out the United Kingdom’s health care system is one to be coveted by pregnant women whether their baby is royal or not.
Prenatal and birthing care is provided for free in the United Kingdom to all “mothers-to-be,” irrespective of their financial situation. This universal maternal health coverage surely contributes to the UK’s low infant mortality rate of 4.91 deaths per 1,000 live births. (The United States trails dismally behind with an infant mortality rate of 6.81 deaths per 1,000 live births.)
Not only are the UK’s health outcomes for infants better, but they produce these results at a fraction of the cost of health care spending in the United States. The UK spends 9.6 percent of its GDP on health care, versus the 17.6 percent we spend in the United States. Health care spending in the UK is $3,433 per capita, but a whopping $8,233 per capita in the United States. Finally, the average out-of-pocket health care costs for citizens in the UK is $306, while it’s $970 in the United States. The UK holds costs down even with a greater portion of its population over 65 than the United States (16.5 percent vs. 13.1 percent).
How can the United Kingdom achieve better health outcomes with lower health care costs while covering a larger percentage of its population? Through its single-payer system, which cuts out the middle man of private health insurance.
The UK does not waste billions of dollars on administrative costs and CEO bonuses that are a standard part of the employer-sponsored private health insurance system in the United States. With the government as the only intermediary between providers and patients, enormous efficiency gains are achieved. So, as the newest heir to the British throne celebrates their first few days on earth, let’s be grateful that they have highlighted the benefits of a simpler health care system that the United States would be wise to emulate.
Dave Sterrett is the health care counsel for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.