Everyone in France has health insurance and like the United States, people rely on both private insurance and government insurance. The French system is particularly generous to cancer patients, guaranteeing that every cancer patient can get any drug, including the most expensive and even experimental ones. In France, the sicker you are, the more coverage you get. For people with one of 30 long-term and expensive illnesses — such as diabetes, mental illness and cancer — the government picks up 100% of their healthcare costs, including surgeries, therapies and drugs. France has been rated the best among industrialized nations at preventing avoidable deaths. The national insurance program is funded mostly by payroll and income taxes.


Switzerland requires that all of its citizens have health insurance (it’s the law). Health insurance premiums are the same price for everyone, regardless of income. The government provides generous subsidies for those who cannot afford it. Under Swiss law, insurers do not earn a profit on the basic, comprehensive plan. Individuals, however, can adjust their premium up or down by choosing a larger or smaller annual deductible, or by joining an HMO-type plan that requires them to choose a doctor in a network.


The Canadian healthcare system is known as “medicare” and it offers universal, comprehensive coverage for hospital and physician services. Private insurance companies have practically no role in the system. The state or regional governments fund healthcare services with assistance from the federal government. All medical services are free of charge for the 33 million people living in Canada. Canadians acknowledge their healthcare system has flaws — there are shortages of doctors in some places and some elective procedures may entail long lines — but Canadians emphasize that all those who need medical assistance receive it.


The Taiwanese government created a national healthcare system in 2005 that guarantees coverage for all citizens. Regardless if you’re rich or poor, the Taiwanese people have equal access to doctors and government coverage includes drug benefits, vision care, in/outpatient care and traditional Chinese medicine. No approvals are needed from general practitioners for an appointment with a specialist. Everybody in the country has a smart card to go to the doctor. The doctor puts the card in a reader and the patient’s history and medications all show up on the screen. The bill goes directly to the government insurance office and is paid automatically.


Healthcare is considered an inalienable right in Cuba and therefore given top priority. Cuba’s health policy emphasizes prevention, primary care, services in the community and the active participation of citizens. Life expectancy in Cuba is higher than that of the U.S. (72.5 years of age vs. 71.9). Health workers have eliminated polio, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and diphtheria. Critics charge that Cubans are forced to wait long hours at government hospitals and access to such rudimentary medicines as antibiotics and Aspirin can be limited.


The Netherland’s health insurance is run by private insurance companies, but insurers are obligated to accept every resident in their area of activity. The federal government is heavily involved in regulating prices and setting national budgets. The Dutch have longstanding relationships with their doctors, and experience little hassle or delay when making appointments. Sixty percent of Dutch patients get same day service in contrast to just 26% of Americans.


Aside from France, Germany is considered to have one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Only 0.2% of Germans do not have health insurance compared to 18% of Americans. German health benefits are very generous and there’s usually little or no wait to get elective surgery or diagnostic tests, such as MRIs. It is compulsory for Germans to contribute to the system. The more money you make, the higher the premium you pay for services. All German workers pay about 8% of their gross income to a nonprofit insurance company called a sickness fund. Their employers pay about the same amount. Workers can choose among 240 sickness funds.

Sources: NPR, The New York Times, Health Canada, WHO, National Policy Analysis, The Boston Globe


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