European national health systems treat patients badly

In his recent report on European pharmaceuticals, Oliver Schoffski, at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, looks at the treatment of 20 illnesses across Europe and incorporates nearly 200 studies of how people were treated. He paints a picture of non-treatment and under-treatment for common diseases such as schizophrenia, heart disease and asthma.

The reasons are complex and not exclusively related to government policies; but he finds that governments – and specifically their funding decisions – are a major source of the woes.

  • In France, 90 percent of patients with acute asthma do not receive adequate care, while half of all patients who should be receiving continuous basic drug therapy are prescribed medications on an ad hoc basis.

  • One million people in Germany suffer from migraines unnecessarily, and only 5 percent of German women are treated with up-to-date pharmaceuticals.

  • Some 83 percent of Italian patients who could benefit from statins – Lipitor and other lipid-lowering medications that reduce cholesterol and thereby protect against heart disease – don't receive them.

    Why are all these governments working to keep doctors from prescribing proven and effective medications? It's a matter of money. In Germany, for example, the government pays for nearly 70 percent of prescription drugs. To bureaucrats eager to keep to their budgets, new drugs are seen only as new expenses – even if they save lives.

    Source: David Gratzer, How Not to Handle Health Care, Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2003.

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