An excellent article appeared recently in Dallas News that talked about the health care systems in other Western countries and what America can learn from them to resolve its health care woes. Here is the article for a good read…

Tackling the high cost of health care is politically bruising and difficult work around the world. Among developed countries, only the Norwegians rival our level of spending. The French wrestle with rising costs every year. The Canadians are searching for a better model, and have had their eyes on France. But for all their troubles, the French and the Canadians – two bogeymen in the American reform debate – spend much less and live longer than we Americans.

In the last five years, I’ve spent time reporting on health care in 10 other countries to see what they might offer in the way of suggestions to improve the American way of medicine. No one has a perfect system. No one has a permanent solution. But medical spending can be slowed without sacrificing quality. Some do it with government price controls and government doctors, while some do it with government acting as a referee. Neither approach is fatal to medical quality.

The Swiss, the French and the Canadians all use very different approaches to get at the problem, but they get there. And when all else fails, there’s still medical tourism. You can get heart bypass surgery, with a tour of the Taj Mahal, in India for less than 10 percent of the U.S. cost – plus a year’s supply of pharmaceuticals.

I met Carlo Gislimberti, a New Mexico restaurateur, in New Delhi in 2005 while he was waiting for a coronary bypass at the Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre. He’d had three heart attacks. He had no health insurance. His Albuquerque hospital wanted $120,000 for the operation.

Escorts did the job for less than $12,000.

“It was an absolutely wonderful experience with wonderful results,” Gislimberti said last week when I called him in Santa Fe.

“There was only one thing – the luxury is not there. But the knowledge, the quality of nursing, it was absolutely beyond belief. … I would still today recommend to all the people in my predicament to go abroad.”

Medical tourism is no longer a quirky answer for the desperate and uninsured. The health-consulting arm of Deloitte estimates 1.6 million Americans will seek medical treatment in another country this year. U.S. health insurers, looking for ways to lower costs, are exploring policies that cover such travel.

Gislimberti, now 64, sold his restaurant and paints for a living. His heart ailments qualified him for disability under Social Security, and last year he was accepted under Medicare. He had a pacemaker installed by his Albuquerque hospital in an operation last May.

One thing he learned: “If you have insurance, this country is the greatest. But it you don’t have insurance, this is a Third World country.”

Another lesson: Price competition is coming. A study by the McKinsey Global Institute consulting group last fall found that Americans pay 50 percent to 60 percent higher charges for pharmaceuticals, health insurance overhead and physician services than anyone else in the world. That could make medical tourism irresistible, and a competitive risk to the U.S. medical establishment.

Switzerland is intriguing because employers have gotten out of the insurance business. The Swiss government mandates personal health insurance. Everyone shops among scores of insurance companies to buy a policy. The insurers must offer everyone a basic policy and can’t exclude anyone. The government offers subsidies to people who can’t afford a policy, and fines people who don’t get one.

Swiss medical fees are set in annual negotiations between health care providers and insurers that must win the approval of the canton parliament. (Insurers and hospital chains do the same thing here, but those negotiations are seldom among equals and don’t have a referee like the canton parliament.)

One result of the Swiss approach is that consumers gravitate toward high-deductible policies – insurance that costs less per month, but takes more out of your wallet when you see a doctor. And because they’re paying for it, the Swiss are more cost-conscious health consumers. The Swiss spend about a third less than Americans for medical care.

France and Canada both have national health insurance. In France, this is like Medicare for all. There’s a gap of 30 percent to 40 percent between what the government insurance covers and what health care costs, so a lively market exists for private, supplemental insurance policies.

Doctors can choose compensation under a government schedule revised every year, or they can charge what they like – and forgo a government pension.

Canadians may, famously, wait for nonurgent treatments and surgeries. But they’re quicker to rally around a public health issue like obesity, because the insurance mechanism is part of the provincial government.

“Our wait lists are coming down, but they’re still substantially more than yours,” said Canadian health economist Steven Lewis. “But your system is twice as expensive. It doesn’t insure 45 million people, it underinsures another 45 million, and overall you have a less healthy population. Is that worth sustaining?”

In the current health care debate in Washington, no one argues that we should throw out the U.S. health care model for an import. There are models closer to home – like Temple’s Scott & White – worth emulating.

But there are plenty of places that spend less for equal or better care. It can be done.

By Jim Landers

Further reading:
Medical tourism
Domestic medical tourism
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Vermont leads the nation in the delivery of its health care, while Mississippi is rated the worst, according to a non-partisan study that compares all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Vermont, Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, Maine and New Hampshire ranked 1 to 5 in 38 indicators of health care.

At the bottom were Mississippi, along with Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Nevada and Texas.

The Commonwealth Fund Commission’s “Scorecard on Health System Performance,” rated the states on access, quality, costs and health outcomes in a follow up to their 2007 report.

Overall, the states which did best on the Commonwealth scorecard were in New England and the upper Midwest, and the worst states were in the South.

Vermont, with only 640,000 residents, has nearly universal health care coverage with 93 percent insured. Its innovative “Blue Print for Health” focuses on prevention of chronic diseases.

“We’re small. There are 19 cities larger than the state of Vermont,” said Susan Besio, director for health care reform and Medicaid for Vermont.

“But I believe there is something unique about Vermont in terms of its culture,” she told ABCNews.com. “We want to take care of each other and we are a healthy state.”

In Mississippi, however, about 20 percent are uninsured despite having some of the highest rates of hypertension, diabetes and asthma.

According to the report, only 35.7 percent of adults 50 or over in Mississippi receive recommended screening and preventive care.

“When you compare Mississippi on almost any socio-economic profile, we are a struggling population that has a large percentage of low-income individuals, high unemployment rates, low rate of education,” said Robert Pugh, director of the Mississippi Primary Health Care Association.

The scorecard “paints a picture of health care systems under stress, with deteriorating health insurance coverage for adults and rising health care costs,” according to co-author Cathy Schoen, who is senior vice president of the commission.

“Where you live matters for access, quality of care and whether you live a long and healthy life. These wide and persistent gaps among states highlight the need for national reforms and federal action to support states.”

For example, 32 percent of working-age adults in Texas are uninsured, compared to only 7 percent in Massachusetts in the most recent survey.

“It’s very hard to have a high performing health care system and hospitals that do well for everyone if you have a high rate of uninsured in the state,” said Schoen.

In 1999-00, there were only two states with 23 percent or more of adults uninsured. But by 2007-2008 there were nine.

Children fared much better, due in large part to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) under Medicaid. The number of states with 16 percent or more of children uninsured dropped from nine to three during the same time period.

Other findings of the report were that in a, costs rose and quality improved in areas where outcomes were reported to the public.

Vermont’s ‘Blue Print For Health’ A Model

The Green Mountain state was cited for its model “Blue Print” program. Launched by Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, it covers everything from teaching children healthy eating to helping seniors stay in their homes rather than going to costly nursing homes.

“You betcha, I feel good about the reforms we put in place,” Douglas told ABCNews.com. “It’s centered on quality and containing costs. Care shouldn’t start in the emergency room.”

All Vermonters are encouraged to have yearly exams and adults are notified when they are due for check-ups.

Douglas talks to children about “getting off the couch” and set an example just this week by joining elementary students on a walk to school.

With the second oldest population in the nation, Vermont subsizes care for seniors and the disabled to defray the costs of home care. Nursing home beds were reduced by 200 last year.

In one pilot program, electronic medical records can avert expensive tests like MRIs and x-rays. One emergency room doctor seeing a woman with stomach pains discovered in her online medication history that she had not filled her prescription for ulcer medicine.

“It takes time and so a lot of the fruits come from years of work and planning and cooperation,” said Douglas.

Health Care Affects a State’s Economy

But Mississippi, with the highest infant mortality and low birth rates in the nation, makes access to these Medicaid programs more difficult, according to Roy Mitchell, director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program (MHAP).

“I am not at all surprised we were 51st on the list,” he told ABCNews.com. “We are last on several health indicators. Our policy makers work hard at being last.”

Despite one of the highest matches of federal to state dollars in Medicaid funding, the state mandates “face-to-face” eligibility, requiring all new applicants and those reapplying for benefits to come in for an interview.

“As a direct result, 65,000 children have fallen off the rolls,” Mitchell said.

“Mississippi does virtually no outreach at all. They don’t publish where these face to face stations are and what times,” he said. “It’s a bureaucratic maze even to find out where to go. And when they get there they don’t have a certain document.”

Of those, about 77 percent would be eligible, he said. “It’s touted as fraud prevention.”

These disparities between the highest and lowest ranked states could be alleviated with national reform, according to Commonwealth.

The report emphasizes the need for insurance reform that rewards good outcomes, payment reform with an emphasis on prevention and advanced information systems that travel with the patient from physician to physician, saving time, money and preventing errors.

“What the scorecard is showing is that we have a system under stress, no matter where we live,” said co-author Schoen. “The costs are rising more than people’s incomes. We need to act.”

Schoen said she has hope for reform. “There is real leadership and people are taking reform seriously.”

Source: ABC News

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