Curing European health care

Critics claim the drive toward the "Americanisation" of European health care represents the antithesis of equity, solidarity and everything else good that its systems are meant to represent, says Helen Disney, director of the Stockholm Network.

But while introducing market mechanisms may seem radical now, it likely won't in a decade's time, says Disney. A combination of demographic changes, increased consumer demand, rising medical costs and the resulting bankrupt welfare systems makes further market-oriented reform of European health systems highly likely.

In fact, many countries are already introducing steps that would have been heretical a few years ago. Some examples:

  • In Slovakia, health insurers and providers have been given for-profit status to spur competition, rather than rely on a single state provider; these changes have helped the annual health-system deficit by cutting costs and increasing investment.

  • In Sweden, with free-market forces at play, nurse pay has shot up, outstripping those in the rest of Sweden's health-care sector by 50 per cent; almost all union organisations in the Swedish health-care sector now support reform.

  • Britain has allowed contracting with private-sector vendors to provide set numbers of standard elective surgeries; this keeps prices down and allows patients to be treated more quickly.

  • The U.K. government has endorsed a set of policies known as "Patient Choice," which allow patients to choose their own hospitals and gives them more control over when and where they are seen by a doctor.

    Many of these efforts have little to do with copying the U.S. system, says Disney. Instead, they forge long-term, European solutions that will not only save taxpayers money but provide better, more personalised service to all citizens – keeping the continent's commitment to social solidarity very much intact.

    Source: Helen Disney, Curing European Health Care, Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2006.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 15 August 2006
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