The NHS — the United Kingdom’s universal health care program — is often coveted by US citizens who wish they had better access to healthcare. But is the NHS actually working, or is the program doomed to eventually collapse?
Americans can hardly believe their ears when they hear it: the 65 million citizens of the United Kingdom each receive totally free medical services at the point of care, no matter their income… or any other requirement, for that matter. It seems hard to wrap your head around, that somehow for the last 70 years, the NHS (the UK’s universal health care program) has been able to offer this service to the country’s citizens.
Of course, it’s not truly free — the United Kingdom spends nearly $4,200 per person per year on this program, which adds up to a mind-boggling sum. The money is raised through mandatory taxes, and therefore, is indirectly paid for by citizens anyway. But there is one obvious problem with this system, and it’s one that the people of the UK are starting to grimly realize more and more:
Cost of care is rising, and demand for medical services is rising at the same time.
That simple fact makes the matter of funding the NHS increasingly difficult; and, as its opponents claim, potentially impossible. Already, the squeeze is being felt in hospitals in England. This winter, as the flu outbreak swarmed across the globe, Britain’s health care infrastructure was spread thinner than ever. Patients were shocked to find non-essential procedures and surgeries canceled or rescheduled in order to free up hospital beds for flu patients and more serious cases. The NHS also admits that 15% of visitors to emergency rooms are waiting more than 4 hours to be admitted (the agency’s target is to shrink that number to 5%). Doctors in the UK are admitting to mainstream media outlets that patients are “dying in the hallway” as a result of not being seen quickly enough.
The problems with the NHS illustrate just how tricky it is to design a perfect healthcare system for our complex society. It certainly seems that when there is zero financial barrier to medical services, the population will use them at an unsustainable rate. The number of emergency room visitors in the UK continues to rise year after year as the system stretches at the seams trying to process the sheer volume of patients.
Meanwhile, here at home in the United States, we have a much different problem: one of access and financial pragmatism. Getting and maintaining health care coverage is more difficult than ever; and as our blog saw last week, some insurers are trying to quietly make potentially dangerous changes to policy in order to improve their profit margins. Neither our system nor the NHS’ approach seem to be tenable over the long haul.
So what, then, is the answer? Well, at Urgent 9, we’re trying something different. Clear and transparent pricing paid directly by the patient has several advantages. You’re not being overcharged or charged for anything unnecessary; you’re not dealing with a middleman; and you can control costs up front without being at the mercy of an insurance policymaker. Let’s face it: health insurance in the United States as it stands is actually financial insurance, designed to keep you from incurring an asset-erasing medical debt that would ruin your life.
Urgent 9 is a modern urgent care center that is trying to address some of these specific problems faced by the healthcare sector in today’s society. We believe that our affordable, direct payment structure is a bold and efficacious answer to the problems posed by the insurance industry. We’d love to hear from you and find out how you think the healthcare system in America can improve: should it be more like the UK, or something totally different?