US, UK healthcare systems each offer unique benefits, drawbacks

The debate over private and public healthcare is constantly ongoing and evolving with recent demands for reforms.

As an international student from the U.K., I’ve been left with many concerns about healthcare since traveling to America. Before even arriving in the U.S., I spent more money than I cared to imagine on the compulsory student medical insurance. For someone who has grown up with the National Health Service, this was shocking.

In my experience, the NHS has been very popular. If you’ve relied on the NHS to save your life or for long-term care, you appreciated the benefits of free healthcare as a given right.

Some people have high expectations of the NHS. In the fast-moving field of medicine, there is a demand for the latest treatments and drugs.

This is something that cannot always be accommodated for by the stringent budget of the NHS.

The NHS is a source of discussion and political debate on an almost daily basis in the U.K.

The British care about the NHS, and we’re proud of it. This was never more strikingly clear than in Danny Boyle’s 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, which showed national pride about the NHS.

Then there’s the U.S. healthcare system, where one has more choices. If you can afford healthcare, you can pay for the treatment you want, unless your claim is denied by your insurance.

My experience with the U.S. healthcare system has been positive. From long-term medical care to emergency dental work, the quality and speed of access to care has been outstanding. However, it comes at a cost.

Although I can commend the quality of healthcare in America, the system through which it’s organized is deeply flawed.

Private insurance companies, “competitive” pricing and other financial factors limit the amount of care you can receive. For someone who repeatedly needs emergency care, this is a tough burden.

Even if you are insured, there are still premiums and co-payments to be made, and coverage is rarely as extensive as one hopes. Other international students and I have been surprised by hidden costs time and again.

The cost of healthcare in the U.S. is extremely high. Insurance coverage is unaffordable for approximately 40 to 50 million people.

Those with the lowest incomes are covered by Medicaid, the jointly federal and state-funded safety net, leaving many still struggling for care.

An American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network survey commissioned in 2010 found that half of families in the U.S. dealing with cancer had problems affording the cost of insurance premiums and co-payments for prescriptions.

Just fewer than a quarter of these families had been contacted by a debt collection agency, with one in six families accumulating thousands of dollars of medical debt. This isn’t affordable for anyone.

Another study found similar results.

As with any organization, the NHS does have its flaws. Access and long waiting times for care often characterize the public healthcare system.

Private healthcare, however, is also an option for some in England. According to the Telegraph, this private healthcare enrollment has been increasing by up to 20 percent per year.

On the other hand, taxpayers are continually supporting the NHS, which has a 2014 budget of approximately $175 billion. It is undeniable that healthcare comes at a price, but it has yet to be universally determined where these costs should lie.

The NHS is a staple of British society that has been in place for 65 years. It’s a reliable backbone for the British people.

The debate should stop being about money and start being about care.

Let’s stop bickering about the small things and take the best from both systems. Only then will we have a truly comprehensive healthcare system.

Kealie Mardell is a junior international student and staff writer at the Daily 49er.

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