Anthony Daniels, a British physician and commentator, cautions those who are confident that Washington could put a lid on health care inflation, determining the most cost-effective efficient treatments and giving physicians/hospitals financial incentives to use them. In Britain, he argues, the key health care providers figured out how to beat the system; the same thing, he suggests, will happen here.
Perhaps. But this glass still looks half full to us. According to the OECD’s bean counters, in 2008 Britain spent just 42 percent as much per person on health care as the United States (calculated in terms of purchasing power). Yet Britain scored 17th among OECD countries in the success of its health care system in preventing avoidable deaths — compared to a miserable 24th for the United States. The country with the very best record by this criterion, by the way, is France, which spent just 49 percent as much as the US.
There’s more to health care than preventing death, of course. Britain’s National Health Service, famous for its dilapidated infrastructure and indifferent delivery of non-critical care, can be a pretty dispiriting institution. And the best of American health care is very, very good, indeed. But as the current debate over funding Medicaid and Medicare makes clear, something’s got to give in the US system. It’s hard to argue that a government effort to define best practices in medicine and to reward providers who use them isn’t worth a try.
(This post was also published on Forbes.com.)