A photo of Big Ben in London

Flickr photo via TJ Morris

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.

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Comments

  • Greg Franks

    What would happen if we did the complete opposite and allowed everyone to save, pre-tax, an unlimited amount of money for their own health care; and if we also allowed them to pass that on to an heir? Would the need for most health insurance not start to dwindle to only perhaps catastrophic health insurance? Might not costs go down? Imagine your doctor no longer has to process insurance claims and staff people trained in “codes.” I predict better, more efficient care. People will decide when they really want to spend their health savings, instead of (in the case of single payer or hmo) having absolutely no idea (or bother) what your care costs?

    • Alan8

      “What would happen if we did the complete opposite and allowed everyone to save, pre-tax, an unlimited amount of money for their own health care…”

      Impractical for several reasons:

      1. No protection for catastrophic events, where the costs wipe out your savings.

      2. Poor people can’t do this, so they’d still go to emergency rooms where the costs are higher, and their conditions are more advanced.

      3. The government as the single payer can negotiate lower prices for medical care. An individual can’t do this.

      Single payer is the best system, but the medical and insurance corporations have corrupted our government so much that BOTH corporate-funded parties are against it.

      Yet another reason I vote Green Party!

    • ELAINE SMITH

      Do you have any data to support this? “Better, more efficient care” post elimination of insurance paper processing, etc is not a given.

    • RUSerious

      An interesting idea Greg, Maggie Thatcher had similar thoughts, she sent a work group to America with the intention of replacing the British National Health System with the American Health system. The group studied and compared the two systems in detail and declared that there really wasn’t an American Health delivery system, only a billing system, and Thatcher dropped the idea.

    • Capierso

      You are assuming that everybody has a job that allows them to save money every month towards the purchase of health care or insurance. Passing this on their your heir? You have got to be kidding.

    • Greg, income inequality is at an all time high here in the U.S. and savings at a historic low. Wages have been flat for decades so forgive me but it’s simply ignoring the economic reality of millions of Americans living at or below the poverty line to suggest we can sock away savings in case we get cancer or hit by a truck. The problem is that hospitals and healthcare providers don’t have to publish their prices and compete for “customers” ie sick people and if they did publish their prices we don’t really have much of a choice because when you get sick you just run to the nearest hospital that will take your insurance. It’s not a matter of deciding when to spend health savings, we get ill we go get immediate care usually at the closest place.

      We need to know the costs and regulate them and take away the ability to constantly jack up prices because they have a monopoly.

    • Hank Bennett

      Greg Franks – What would happen under your scenario would be much like what happens today only a great deal worse. The rich would have first class health care and the rest of us would muddle along with “Brand X” health care, while the poor would have none!

    • Ruth Gaillard

      Greg,
      My son and three friends, all in their 30s, have just been in a car accident. They were hit by a drunk hit-and-run driver driving the wrong way on the interstate. Two were airlifted out, one of these died. The other two were taken to a small local hospital. Their medical expenses will be very high. They are all hard-working, self-employed people who could not afford health insurance at today’s rates. My son has a pre-existing condition and so until recent changes in the law, no insurance company would accept him as a customer. Now they are forced to accept him, rates would be very high. Your suggestion of having an unlimited amount of money in a savings account might work well for wealthy older people who do not have expensive health care needs. My son and his friends have not been able to save enough, at their ages, to cover the massive costs that this accident has incurred. Even catastrophic policies are very expensive for those who are not part of a group plan. My son and his friends did not decide to spend health care dollars, the accident beyond their control required it. If this accident had happened in the UK, where I grew up and where my family still live, there would have been no charges for the medical care that the accident victims received. It would have been very high quality care too. And the costs to society would be less, as the article above states, the UK spends less on healthcare than the US, and every resident is covered. The victims could mourn their lost friend, and concentrate on their own recovery, instead of facing financial ruin.

  • Gris

    If you read the daily news in the UK it is full of items that indicate that the system is flawed and full of issues I visit ogten the UK and the paper on a daily basis as well as the news report the disaster and the unnecessary deaths of infants, mothers, young adults and the elderly. I think you are too idealistic to have this view. While we need reform the british model is not the answer. Also Kate is royalty so bad example here too. The number of people buying private insurance and leaving the coutnry to get healthcare in other places like India and Singare grows every day. The system itself has bee attempting to understake reform. It is a nice post but not real. A dear friend had her ovaries fried with radiation instead of Tmoxifen after a breast cancer surgery because she already had three kids and tomoxifen was too expensive, she also waited 5 years for a reconstruction because they needed to make sure that “she will survivce before wasting the reconstruciton on her” for more than 5 years she underwent the shame of one breast when it is unnecessary, she was 38 years old when this happened. I think you should inform yourself better and look at the number of people buying private insurance to go to the private hospitals. it is not happily ever after for eveyrone in the UK. Inform yourself,

    • The news is full of stories about how crap the NHS is because they are pushing the government’s agenda, doing the bidding of their corporate paymasters, which is to privatise the NHS. Yes there are flaws in the system, any large institution has flaws, but there is a concerted effort underway to undermine people’s confidence in the NHS so that it can be replaced with an American-style system, despite the fact that it is obviously far more flawed. A large majority of people in the UK support and value the NHS and would not accept privatisation, but they are being manipulated by the media into accepting it by the back door as “reform” of a “broken” system.

  • Sam

    OK this is great but this baby’s birth is totally irrelevant to the article. Kate had the three best gynos in the country attending her, a team of midwives and gave birth in a $12,000 a day private suite. This is nothing like the care your average Brit mum receives! And everyone that works does pay a tax that is supposed to pay for your healthcare so its not really “free”. Free for those that don’t work I suppose.

  • Eric Bischoff

    Greg speaks like a man who has money and does not really understand the current economic human condition. Money for food lodging transportation to work. Then there’s usually not much left for many. So do you really think that these people will save for healthcare?

    Medicare for all is so simple even a caveman could do it. Cut out the predatory middle man insurance industry leeching a fat percentage right off the top.

    Then the next problems to deal with are the overly used and unnecessary tests & surgeries, the overly prescribed, toxic and expensive drugs and the war on cheap alternative healthcare.

    From there we move on to ending subsidies to big agra on Soy & Corn which will put the fast food & processed foods genie back in ti’s bottle.

    Ther’s always an alternative.

  • Donna

    Greg, at one time, I would agree with you. I can remember the days, when I was much younger, that I did not have to have insurance. I could save money, so always had extra. A visit to the doctor’s office was about 10 or 12 dollars. A specialist would be more, maybe 40 or 50 dollars. Now, it’s a lot more expensive to go to see a doctor. Of course, many things are a lot more expensive. Then there are people who are disabled and can’t work. Those who have SSI as their only income, will have Medicaid as their insurance. They are not in the position to save money. In my state, people who are on SSI can have no more than $2000 in a bank account. As far as medical costs go, that $2000 isn’t going to go far. With Single Payer, there would not be any income restrictions and people would get quality care from the time when they are still in the womb until they die. There are so many reasons to push for Single Payer. Setting up Health Savings Accounts will only work for those who are on the higher end of the income spectrum.

  • Joseph

    What if we just paid a fraction more of taxes and we all had right to Health Care just like we have coverage for security, safety and education… Police, Military, Firefightters, sechools and others.
    Health Care in America is a privilege of the people that can afford it. How would it happen if education, safety, order and security would be only to the ones that could afford it?

  • Not exactly true – Kate Middleton delivered in a special area of the hospital accessed only by consultants (privately paid specialists). My cousin works there!

  • Gris

    Hel;athcare is not a privilege, being healthy is a priviledge and a gift. Kate is priviledged and this is why she got what she got. Lets not forget that a pence a day from every British citizen goes to support the Royals,so they are loaded with money and they still are kept by the people. In addition the Brits pay lots of taxes for a system that is “refoprming itself” after a 100 years or more it is still reforming itself. Eric, Medicare is covered by taxes, taxes that those who work pay, those who do not take from those of us who pay. I am not sure why he feels that he does not have, I came here as an immigrant with “0″ in my pocket and when I did not have, I took a second job and sometimes a third. I am shocked to see how people in this country expect to say I do not have enough, take food stamps,and Medicaid yet they are on the phone at the store speaking on a $500 apple phone. The values need to be aligned better and we need to provide for oursleves before we depend on others or the government. It is not a matter of being of money is a matter or willing to work to provide. If you are sick and cant provide for yourself or there is a disability then, of course, you should get help. This article is absurd and totally away from the point and the reality, let me see you comment on the tragedies and inefficienceis of the British system and then, we can talk. Of all the systems you could have used as an example and of all the people you ould have used,you chose the wrong ones.
    Please find another post, it is time to replace it.

  • Louise

    How about keeping to the subject which is Health Care and not whether you approve or disapprove of Royalty.
    I lived 17 years in the UK and I admired as well as benefited from their logical approach to a host of issues.
    The British health care system was the best at that time (1965) and I was training as a nurse so I saw it from within and from without. It has endured and it is still a solid and functional institution. Even after I left nursing, I was never concerned about my health care, I knew I had it and with quality. Of course as usual, any entity is only as good as its leader and regardless of politics, the British government has mostly been fair and responsible toward its people. We here, cannot claim this by a long shot!
    I would strongly support a similar health care system for the US if I knew that we have the kind of government to manage it fairly and honestly. At things stand, I will pass.
    It may not be the topic of this posting but since it is linked from source, I will mention another thing “Made-in-UK that we could emulate: It is called P.A.Y.E. It is the taxation system and it stands for “Pay As You Earn”
    Everyone is basically taxed at the same rate which is equitable and taxes are deducted at source. What you receive is ALL yours. No cheating, no accounting fiddles and deductions and no headache struggling with tax filing at the end of the year.
    We definitely need a serious house cleaning here.

  • The Prince of Cambridge can most certainly teach us multiple truths about a single payer health care system . Unfortunately, it wii not translate into widespread popular support for such a system until, rather than the Prince of Cambridge the idea is popularized in song by, say, Prince the singer.

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