From Germany to Australia, a Global Perspective on Obamacare

November 6, 2013 by:

Prescription bottleThe United States roll out of the Health Insurance Marketplace has turned into a massive technological mess, one that is overshadowing why the Affordable Care Act was created in the first place. And don’t forget the government shutdown last month, a last-ditch effort by Republicans to scupper ObamaCare. Whenever the American media is foaming at the mouth over an issue, I’m curious what the rest of the world thinks of our problems. I want an outside perspective.

Remember when the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act? The presidential race between Obama and Romney was the issue on every mind. The German print weekly Der Spiegel published a round up of German media’s opinion on the court’s decision, ranging from center-left to conservative. The gamut of media praised the decision.

“This health reform package … will go down in the history books as a historical achievement – even though it’s unclear how Americans, who already have the most expensive healthcare system in the world – will pay for the extra costs.” – conservative Die Welt

“The state of the healthcare system is shameful for a superpower like the USA. It is by far the most expensive system in the world – two and a half times more expensive than the OECD average – and offers some of the worst care among industrialized countries. It doesn’t cover 50 million citizens. And treatment costs bring many people and companies to the brink of financial ruin.” – Financial Times Deutschland

“It is a scandal that the biggest industrial nation in the world allows 50 million of its citizens – nearly one-sixth of the population – to go without health insurance. For economic reasons alone, this makes no sense.” – center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung

Americans, please, let’s keep in mind the big picture. The website may be a joke, but in the long run, websites can be fixed.

In Australia, which recently had a landslide election of conservative prime minister Tony Abbott, who vows to abolish the unpopular carbon tax, one commentator used Obamacare as an angle to denounce Australia’s own healthcare system, writing, “Australians are routinely treated to mindless spendathons, where both sides of politics compete to shower the public health system with more money.”

I was surprised to read this opinion piece, written about the U.S. government shutdown, which concludes that Canadians should conduct politics more like Americans.

“The political system there [in the U.S.] is plainly and obviously crazy, although exciting as in the populism of the Tea Party movement and the passion with which public debates are conducted … Our own system is by no means perfect. Calling it boring is actually another way of saying that too few in our system possess strong convictions about any policy or idea.”

On the other hand, another Canadian commentator wrote, “The government shutdown in the United States has some parallels with Egypt and other places where democracy is thwarted, mostly by sabotaging the will of the voters and the rule of law. The American system of governance — the president vs. Congress, Senate vs. the House, feds vs. the states — was designed to encourage restraint and compromise. Lately it has produced the opposite, due principally to an excess of partisanship and special interests.”

China has been enacting its own healthcare reforms since 2009, providing healthcare for the first time to more than 800 million people.

“China is ahead of Obamacare, as they are dealing with two problems at the same time: the uninsured population and healthcare cost inflation,” said William Hsiao, professor of economics at the Harvard School of Public Health.

This puts our situation in perspective – even China is providing healthcare to its uninsured. In spite of the problems surrounding the roll out of the Health Insurance Marketplace, the concept behind the reforms is sound. Instead of decrying Obamacare, let’s focus on how we can improve the way the new system functions.



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