How Do Other Countries Afford Universal Health Care?

Question: I have heard repeatedly that every major economy, besides the U.S., has universal health care. I have also heard that the Medicare program, which obviously doesn’t cover everyone, is headed for bankruptcy. How do these other countries afford to cover everyone, when “the richest country in the world” can’t even afford to cover seniors?

Paul Solman: The simple answer is that health care is far less expensive everywhere else in the world. One reason often given is the enormous cost of administering a private competitive system like ours. Think of all the people just at insurance companies, trying to figure out what you’re eligible for (and how to save the companies money). Then think of all the people working in hospitals, trying to figure out how to get more money out of the people working at insurance companies.

In addition, there’s the ever-higher price of technology, including pharmaceuticals. We pay top dollar for drugs in America and the government doesn’t use its enormous buying power to force down prices, as other countries do. Plus, unlike most countries the world over, we allow direct advertising to consumers in the US. It all adds up.