- The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is a government-sponsored system where people are entitled to healthcare without cost at the point of use.
- Here, author Jennifer Still, an American living in the UK, lays out five reasons why she believes the NHS is “superior” to the healthcare system in the US.
When I lived in the US, I rarely went to the doctor. I didn’t have work-provided health insurance and I couldn’t afford any of the plans with exceptionally high premiums offered to individuals on the marketplace.
This meant that my “insurance” plan, like many other Americans, was “don’t get sick.”
It’s a frightening and somewhat depressing reality to live with, but that reality has shifted greatly since I moved to the UK a few years ago as the partner of a British citizen.
The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is alive and, while not completely well, a vital part of the lives of the millions who live here.
Here are five ways I’ve found that the NHS is superior to the US healthcare system:
Its government-sponsored healthcare is dependent on need, not your ability to pay.
Whether you’re unemployed or in a high income bracket, everyone is entitled to healthcare at the point of use without cost.
While many could argue that we do “pay” for healthcare in the form of National Insurance contributions, these are generally taken from our paychecks directly before we even realise they’re gone and in many cases are even waived for those under a certain income threshold.
This means that regardless of your situation, you can go to the doctor when you need to and hopefully get the advice, care, or medication you need without worrying about whether or not you can actually afford to pay for it.
A visit to the emergency room or a lengthy hospital stay won’t bankrupt you.
I found this out when I broke my ankle unexpectedly and, as it was a trimalleolar fracture, it required surgery and a multiple-day hospital stay.
I stressed for much of the visit, used to the American way of receiving bills for multiple thousands of dollars that there’d be no way I could ever repay.
When I was discharged from the hospital three days after my surgery with several weeks worth of medication and a set of crutches to help me on my way, I wasn’t handed a bill, nor was I sent one later. The NHS covered it all.
Prescriptions are either free or capped at £8.60.
It’s an unfortunate fact that at some point in our lives, we’ll all need medication, whether temporary or more long-term.
In America, if you don’t have great health insurance which includes prescription coverage, purchasing drugs prescribed to you by your doctor could be crippling or even impossible.
That’s not an issue in the UK, where many residents are eligible for free prescriptions and everyone else, no matter how much money they make or don’t make, pays no more than £8.60(roughly $10.85 USD).
If you’re going to be on medication long-term, you can even apply for a PPC, or prescription prepayment certificate, which could save you hundreds per year.
Private healthcare is still available but not generally necessary.
There are many people in positions of power in the UK who would love to privatize the NHS and turn it into a system that operates like it does in the US, which would eliminate the aforementioned advantages of the system.
One negative aspect of the NHS is that the system is overtaxed, which sometimes results in specialist waiting lists that are lengthy. Because of these delays, many people do choose to purchase private medical insurance or pay private doctor fees out of pocket.
If this is something you’re able to swing financially and are interested in, the option is always there, but it coincides with a more affordable system than the US offers.
It also affordably covers other things like dental care, physiotherapy, and sexual health services.
In the UK, birth control is free, for starters – you don’t even pay the general prescription fee.
You can get your teeth cleaned at an NHS dentist for £21.60 (roughly $US27.50) and emergency treatment and fillings are also available at a reduced cost. Mental health services, while admittedly still somewhat lacking in the UK at the moment, are also available on the NHS, as are women’s health services like pap smears, mammograms, and more.
While the NHS is far from perfect, as an American, I’ve seen how hard the doctors, nurses, and other NHS staff members work on a daily basis to provide the best possible care for hundreds of thousands of patients throughout the UK on a daily basis.
The system certainly needs a lot of improvement – more government funding would be a good start – but I’m grateful for its existence on a daily basis and only wish America would get behind a similar system.
Healthcare is a right, not a privilege, and it’s good to live in a country in which people (most of them, anyway) seem to be on board with that train of thought.
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