Friday, August 03, 2012

How the Australian Healthcare System Can Help American Health Care

Given all the attention given to the healthcare in the U.S., ever wonder how other countries manage to keep their citizens happy and healthy? This guest post from Lena Paul offers a glimpse at how Australia tackles the situation:

Universal healthcare is often viewed as a hallmark of western civilization, save in the United States where it is only just now getting a very rocky beginning that is under threat by the oncoming election, despite the fact that comparisons between America and other countries definitely puts America off the worst. In America, it's assumed that people use employer-subsidized healthcare, private insurance and Medicare, with no universal medical record, lots of lawsuits and a disparity of lawsuits. Somehow, with all these lacks, Americans still manage to spend more on health care than anyone else does while still being ranked very low by WHO (World Health Organization). Sheesh! But other western nations are different and a good comparison is Australia. This is because certain aspects of the Australian system are very similar to the traditional American setting while being different in fundamental ways.
The core of Australian healthcare isn't too terribly different from the American system. It relies on a combination of employer and public funding; with 8.8% of the GDP spend on healthcare (compared to 15.3% in 2007 in America, before the advent of 'ObamaCare'). About two-thirds of this spending is public and the rest is private. So what accounts for the lower level of spending?

Largely, a better level of health but also a better funded healthcare system which takes advantage of slightly higher taxes and better organization. There is a lower rate of mortality from diseases, it's easier to get to a doctor, wait times for elective surgeries are the same and, one of the most important points, in Australia, people are more likely to go to the doctor or get prescription drugs because it costs less. The big difference is hospital wait times, which can be extremely long, particularly for elective surgeries or a sudden need.

Another major aspect is how the universal healthcare is slanted. Medicare in Australia provides basic coverage to citizens, free treatment in public hospitals and free or covered treatments. Dental, optho and mental health are covered as are services for the disabled and seniors. If you go to a private hospital, you'll have to pay more of your bill, but that's the price you pay for privacy (and speed of getting in). Subsidized prescription drugs and a safety net for the poor round out the list, plus you can choose your doctor or hospital. Neat! People get a choice of whether to go for public care and risk waiting longer or pay for private care and get faster service, at a cost. Many people opt for both over the course of their lives, depending on circumstances.

How is this funded? As always, your tax dollars at work; income tax is about 1.5% higher in Australia, plus there are some out of pocket/cost sharing expenses, private company funding and higher taxes on those with cash to spend who don't purchase private insurance.

So why is the Australian health care system a beneficial case study for Americans to consider? This two tier system in Australia would be relatively easy to implement. America already has a strong infrastructure in place for private healthcare and so adding a greater emphasis on public healthcare could blend in well. Universal coverage could let people get the basics they need when they need it while the ability to purchase more comprehensive private coverage would be offered.

Australia, like America, has a mixed public-private funding system for its universal healthcare coverage. Unlike America, it has a top of the line care record and the costs are less. There are some ways in which Americans can tweak this to fit their needs, but overall, the Australian system bears some closer observation, particularly as ObamaCare falls into threat and heavy criticism. Healthcare should be incredibly important to everyone and for that reason, it's important to take a hard look at it and see what other people in the world are doing and how their ways can be implemented best.

Lena Paul is a medical school graduate who is an enthusiastic blogger and holds an editorial position in Prepgenie, a test prep provider that offers exam preparation courses for UKCAT, GAMSAT, PCAT and UMAT.

1 comment:

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