Health care in OECD Countries
Healthcare systems across the world harbor similarities and differences. Among the OECD (Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, while there are similarities, stark differences exist, especially when comparing the healthcare systems of the US and other OECD countries. While the bulk of healthcare spending in the US is private expenditure, the reverse is true in Norway and Finland, where the bulk of healthcare spending essentially comes from public expenditure (OECD, 2015). Additionally, while healthcare spending in the US cost about 16.4 percent share of the GDP, spending for Norway and Finland stood at 8.9 and 8.6 percent of the GDP respectively in 2015. In comparing and contrasting the health care systems of OECD countries, this paper will look at Norway and Finland in comparison with the US, analyzing the number of the uninsured, lifespan, infant mortality rates, overall cost of health care, per patient spending and the current OECD rankings of the three nations.
Health insurance cover is one of the most important aspects of the health care system as it ensures individuals and their families have access to healthcare through the covers. According to Barnett and Berchick (2017), the number of the uninsured in the US stood at 8.8 percent of the population, which is an estimated 28.1 million people. The US’s uninsured statistics highlight a visible contrast in the number of the uninsured in other OECD countries. Norway and Finland for instance have universal insurance. All Norwegians have health insurance cover through the National Insurance Scheme (Shafrin, 2008). The universal insurance for all Norwegians places the country high in WHO’s health rankings, where it (Norway) ranks 11 among the 38 countries ranked worldwide (Tanner, 2008). Like Norway, Finland’s National Health Insurance scheme covers all the country’s residents, and covers both the employed and the unemployed (Partanen, 2017; Teperi et al., 2009).
Healthcare and access to universal health care has a great influence on the expected lifespan of individuals. With better and universal access to health care (Partanen, 2017; Shafrin, 2008; Teperi et al., 2009), Norway and Finland have among the highest life expectancies in the world, and better life expectancies in comparison with the US. The United Nations (2015) placed the average world life expectancy at 71.5, however, with better health and living standards Norway at 81.8 years and Finland 81.1 years, as the life expectancy have far higher life expectancies than US at 79.3 years (UN, 2015). The UN projects that the two European countries could gain far better life expectancies in the future, gaining 10-11 years between 2095-2100 (UN, 2015).
Aside from determining the lifespan, access to health and universal health coverage also affects infant mortality rates. UN’s 2015-2020 infant mortality rates projection attest to the aforementioned statement. With an infant mortality rate of 2 in both Norway and Finland and 5 in the US (UN, 2015), it is sufficing to state that access to universal health care plays a major role in the determination life expectancy and infant mortality rates.
Further, the three countries also show differences in the total health care costs/expenditure. Scutti (2017), enthuses that the US spent $3.3 trillion in health care in 2017, a 4.3 percent increase from the previous year, making up 16 percent of the GDP. The increases in health care spending in the US in the recent times are because of the Affordable Care Act, which expanded coverage for individuals initially illegible for health insurance coverage. Norway’s overall cost of healthcare on the other hand was 9.3 percent of the GDP in 2017 (Allen, 2017). The country spent an estimated NOK 3100000 ($3892950) in 2017 on health, attesting to the government’s concern on the health of the population (Morgan, Gmeinder & Wilkens, 2017). For Finland, overall cost for healthcare stood at EUR 19.8 billion (approximately $24 billion) in 2015 (National Institute for Health and Welfare, 2017). The amount represented a 1.2 percentage increase, and corresponded to 9.4 percent of the GDP.
From the statistics, US leads the world by far in healthcare spending in total amount, as a fraction of the GDP as well as per capita expenditure. Scutti (2017) informs that the US spent $10,348 per person in 2016. The expenditure came even as the nation experienced a decline in the health care spending growth following decline in the initial impacts of ACA coverage. In comparison, Norway’s per capita (per person) spending was $6,140 in 2017 (Allen, 2017). Perhaps the country’s low per capita spending on health in comparison to the US is due to the relatively healthy population given the country’s well-funded health care system. Finland on the other hand, had the lowest per capita expenditure at $3442. Despite the population of the country being sparse, Finns have one of the most developed health care systems ensuring the population has access to an extensive set of services (Teperi et al., 2009).
Per capita spending among the three countries shows that while Norway and Finland have among the lowest health expenditures in comparison to the US, they have healthier residents given the universal health care systems that are effective in providing health services. The high levels of healthcare in the two countries is perhaps the reason they rank highly among the 38 OECD countries. The Better Life Index that measures well-being places Norway and Finland at the first and 8th positions, while the US follows at 9th position. Better Life Index includes dimensions of well-being as fronted by Marber. According to Marber (2012), the dimensions include work-life balance, life satisfaction, safety, health, governance, education, housing, income, jobs, environment and community.
The differences in the number of uninsured is largely dependent on the health care system present in a country. While Norway and Finland have universal insurance to all its residents through the different health insurance providers within the health care system, ACA passed a few years ago expanded health care insurance, although not everyone is yet insured. Further, the absence of universal health care in the US explains not only the difference in life expectancy between it and the two European countries, but also the reason for more spending on health care. Besides, the US’s population is far more than the population of Norway and Finland combined. Additionally, the difference in the amount spent on health care in the US in comparison to Norway and Finland stems from the rising price of health care services in the US, increase in spending on specific conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and cancers, outpatient treatment and pharmaceutical drugs. Moreover, the expanded health care insurance under the ACA has demanded more government involvement in subsidizing insurance for the poor, thus increasing the overall cost of healthcare in the US. However, with improved health care systems and technology across the three countries, better health care, life expectancy and reduced child mortality have been experienced.
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