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Report Ranks Britain’s NHS World’s Best Health Care System; US Ranked Last Among Most-Developed Nations

(Matt Brown)

(Matt Brown)

A newly-released report by a US-based health care research organization has ranked Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) the best among 11 most-developed nation health systems, with the United States placing last.

An international panel of health experts prepared the report for the Commonwealth Fund, a Washington, DC-based private foundation dedicated to improving health care outcomes in the United States.

The panel analyzed numerous components of 11 most-developed nations’ health care systems and concluded that “the United Kingdom ranks first overall, scoring highest on quality, access and efficiency.” The UK placed first out of 11 nations in eight out of the 11 areas analyzed. One area in which the Britain performed poorly was in the ‘healthy lives’ category, in which it placed 10th, ahead of only the United States.

Britain was also praised for its short patient wait times.

“There is a frequent misperception that trade-offs between universal coverage and timely access to specialized services are inevitable,” the report said. “However, the Netherlands, UK and Germany provide universal coverage with with low out-of-pocket costs while maintaining quick access to speciality services.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the US, which spends much more annually per capita on health care than any other nation in the report, placed dead last overall and last in efficiency, equity and healthy lives.

“The most notable way the US differs from other industrialized countries is the absence of universal health and insurance coverage,” the report noted. “The US also ranks behind most countries on many measures of health outcomes, quality and efficiency.”

Relatively strong points for the US include effective care (3rd), patient-centered care (4th) and overall quality of care (5th). But cost efficiency problems (11th), equal access to health care (11th) and healthy lives– which includes infant mortality and deaths among patients who would otherwise have survived had they received timely and effective care– (11th) contributed to America’s last-place finish.

“Disparities in access to services signal the need to expand insurance to cover the uninsured and to ensure that all Americans have an accessible medical home,” the report stated, citing the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” as a step in the right direction.

British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt welcomed the report’s findings.

“NHS staff work incredibly hard to care for patients and these encouraging results pay testament to that,” Hunt said.

While many Britons grumble about the many shortcomings of their NHS, they also consider it an indispensable part of British life.

“In an almost kind of religious way, people remain terrifically wedded to the idea of the NHS, even though it is kind of struggling,” Dr. Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, told Moral Low Ground in a previous interview. “The people have made this absolutely clear to any politicians who dare say we don’t need the NHS. [The NHS] is a bit like God in America, it’s like our version of Christianity.”

While many global health leaders remain baffled by America’s rejection of “socialized medicine,” American advocates for reform continue to push for expanded, improved health care access for all. Despite widespread opposition to what many Americans view as “socialized medicine,” surveys have shown increased support for government-run health care in recent years, with a 2009 New York Times/CBS poll revealing that nearly half of Americans believing the government should provide health insurance.

“Today, a plurality of Americans say they support ‘socialized medicine’ and that’s a sign of how far we’ve come,” Dr. Ida Hellander, director of policy and programs at the US advocacy group Physicians for a National Health Plan, told Moral Low Ground.

However, many Americans, especially conservatives, continue to posit that the United States has the best health care system in the world and that reform efforts such as “Obamacare” will place unbearable financial strain on an already heavily indebted US economy and destroy what they perceive as America’s health care superiority.

But the newest Commonwealth Fund report is the latest in a long line of studies ranking the US at or near the bottom of the list of most-developed nations’ health care systems, and with America currently ranking 42nd in global life expectancy and tens of thousands of annual US deaths attributed to lack of access to health insurance, there is clearly much room for improvement.

(Commonwealth Fund)

(Commonwealth Fund)

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