Amid Global Pandemic, PBS NewsHour Offers an In-Depth Look at Health Care Systems in Europe, Australia and the United States

ARLINGTON, VA ( August 24, 2020) — PBS NewsHour today announced a five-part universal health care series to air beginning on Monday, August 31, 2020 (check local listings). Following the heated “Medicare for All” debates between Democrats earlier this year, and ahead of a general election that will determine the future of American health care, the series will examine health care in the U.S. and in three other high-income nations. How do other countries cover more of their populations for a much lower cost, with better outcomes? And what sacrifices do they make to get there?

PBS NewsHour correspondent William Brangham and producer Jason Kane, in partnership with Dr. Ashish Jha of the Harvard Global Health Institute [soon to be Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health] begin the series in Houston, Texas. In many ways, the city — home to some of the most cutting-edge medical innovation and one of the largest uninsured populations in the nation — represents both the best and worst of the current U.S. health care system. In subsequent nights, they take viewers to the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Australia to explore three very different ways of achieving universal health coverage, and lessons the U.S. might consider when mapping its own path forward.

The series provides a ground-level view of how health care is delivered in each country, and, through the stories of patients, explores how each system functions at the point of care. Brangham speaks with some of the most influential health policy leaders in each location, including Episcopal Health Foundation president and CEO Elena Marks, former National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (England) chief executive Sir Andrew Dillon, former Switzerland Secretary of Health Thomas Zeltner and Lowitja Institute CEO Janine Mohamed.

Data producer Laura Santhanam and senior UX/UI designer CY Park also contributed to reporting for this special series.

Part One: United States

In a country where 60 percent of Americans now agree that health care is a human right — and that the government should be responsible for ensuring people can receive the care they need — close to 30 million people remain uninsured. Brangham and Jha travel to Houston, Texas — home to Texas Medical Center, “the biggest medical city in the world” and its stunning medical innovation. But several miles away — in low-income, largely minority neighborhoods — many residents lack basic health insurance and die, on average, 20 years earlier than in other parts of Houston.

Part Two: United Kingdom

The National Health Service, or NHS, has been called the closest thing the UK has to a national religion. This classic example of a single-payer system — funded by taxes, with the government then paying for nearly all health care — has been something of a model for the “Medicare for All” plan that has been so hotly debated in recent months. The majority of UK residents still say the NHS is the nation’s single greatest achievement, but dissatisfaction has been growing in recent years as austerity budgets, medical staff shortages and long wait times for some treatments have ballooned.

Part Three: Switzerland

This nation famous for its chocolate and cheese has also created a top-quality health care system that manages, in some ways, to be even more market-driven than the U.S. approach … while still achieving universal coverage. Roughly 90 private insurance companies compete for customers, and the Swiss can choose any insurance plan, doctor and hospital they like. But there are a few catches — everyone is required to be covered, prices are high and the middle-class is being increasingly crushed with the weight of rising premiums with each passing year.

Part Four: Australia

Despite the often black-and-white debate that has raged in the U.S. over a universal health care system, Australia long ago built a successful hybrid model that includes both universal public coverage and a robust private market offering choice for those who can pay extra. But some say the government is using too much public money to maintain this balance, and that billions of taxpayer dollars would be better spent expanding coverage for underserved populations.

Part Five

How have each of these nations fared so far during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what role did the structure of their health care systems play? Brangham and Jha explore.

In addition to broadcast, coverage will extend on NewsHour’s social and digital platforms, including an interactive quiz that allows viewers to test their knowledge of health care systems and compare prices and access across countries. Online audiences will hear about the strengths and weaknesses of the Canadian health care system and what lessons the U.S. can draw from its northern neighbors about cost, access and outcomes. A pair of nationally representative surveys, which produced PBS NewsHour in partnership with Marist Poll, captured the American public’s perceptions of the U.S. health care system and how it measures up against other countries explored in the series, both before the COVID-19 pandemic and months after the coronavirus disrupted lives worldwide.

This series received support from The Commonwealth Fund, a national, private foundation based in New York City that supports independent research on health care issues and makes grants to improve health care practice and policy.

About PBS NewsHour

PBS NewsHour is a production of NewsHour Productions LLC, a wholly-owned non-profit subsidiary of WETA Washington, DC, in association with WNET in New York. Major corporate funding is provided by BNSF, Consumer Cellular, Fidelity, Johnson & Johnson, and Raymond James, with additional support from Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Ford Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Kendeda Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Lemelson Foundation, National Science Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Skoll Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Friends of the NewsHour and others. More information on PBS NewsHour is available at www.pbs.org/newshour. On social media, visit PBS NewsHour on Facebook or follow @NewsHour on Twitter.

Media contact: Sydney Cameron, Publicist, scameron@newshour.org