“Every 30 seconds in the United States someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem,” according to the National Coalition on Health Care.
The United States spends the most in the world on health care – about $2 trillion annually. Yet, the U.S. ranks 37th in world in terms of the quality and fairness of its health care, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The U.S. has no comprehensive national health insurance system. Those who have insurance get it through their employers, government programs, or private suppliers. However,there are 47 million people that are not insured. Furthermore, millions more are underinsured, which has led to a growing epidemic of medical debt and bankruptcy in the United States. A Harvard University report found that about 50 percent of all bankruptcy fillings were partially due medical debt.
In light of this growing problem, correspondent T.R. Reid traveled with Frontline to investigate if other free-market countries were having the same problems with medical-related bankruptcy. What he found was shocking.
Traveling to the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, and Switzerland, Reid found that health-related bankruptcy is almost unheard of in these countries. Unlike the United States, all five of the visited countries have universal health care and pay a lot less.
Switzerland spends the second-highest amount on health care, but the government still spends 44-percent less per capita than the United States.
The full program, "Sick Around the World," is available online, along with a list of resources and a Q&A with Reid.
All the countries have varying degrees of private, market-based health care, like the United States. They, however, also limit the level of freedom the health care market can have. According to Frontline:
First, insurance companies must accept everyone and can't make a profit on basic care. Second, everybody's mandated to buy insurance, and the government pays the premium for the poor. Third, doctors and hospitals have to accept one standard set of fixed prices.
It's unnecessary for health care costs to send hundreds of thousands of Americans into debt each year. As Reid has learned, it is possible to make health care universal and affordable in a free-market economy.