A comparison of U.S. healthcare news to the overseas equivalent

As part of my work, I spend a lot of time combing through healthcare news stories. I inevitably stumble onto articles about hospitals and healthcare delivery from other parts of the world.

I think what those articles say--or, rather, what they don't say--speaks volumes about the state of healthcare delivery and finance in our own country. Just compare the health finance controversies below from Canada, Denmark and other locales to the ones we read about here at home. 


Canadians are hopping mad about the cost of parking at hospitals. It's become so bad that Ontario, the country's most populous province, recently froze parking rates for the next three years, according to CBCnews. Any hospital that charges more than $10 Canadian (U.S. $7) a day must offer discounts of 50 percent to any visitor who parks at a facility for 10 days or more in a row. The freeze and discounts "will go a long way toward alleviating this particular burden for families," said Susan Kuczynski, a parent liaison with the organization Ontario Parents Advocating for Children with Cancer.

Canada's healthcare spending as a proportion of GDP: 10.9 percent (2013)
Healthcare spending per person: $4,569 (2015)
Average life expectancy: 81 years (2013)

(Gross domestic product (GDP) and life expectancy data here and below is from the World Bank; spending data is from the Commonwealth Fund).


Hospitals are wasting an enormous amount of food, according to Politiken, one of Denmark's largest newspapers. One of the biggest problems, the newspaper reported in 2014, is that organizations must order meals three days in advance, and that it often arrives after a patient has been moved or discharged. The publication has yet to do a follow-up story on whether the industry has made changes to the centralized system for dispensing hospital meals.

Denmark's healthcare spending as a proportion of GDP: 10.6 percent (2012)
Healthcare spending per person: $4,847 (2015)
Average life expectancy: 80 years (2013)


In a nation with about 4 million women, a total of 76 died of cervical cancer in 2012, the Jerusalem Post reported. Although the fact that the high rate of male circumcision among both Jewish and Arab Israelis keeps the rate of disease down due to its preventive effect in spreading the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), government-sponsored HPV vaccines and regular pap smears are readily available as well.

Israel's healthcare spending as a proportion of GDP: 7.2 percent (2013)
Healthcare spending per person: $2,232 (2015)
Average life expectancy: 82 years (2013)

United Kingdom

Like Canada, the cost of parking at British hospitals have been making a lot of headlines as of late. However, the Guardian reported just last week that the country's hospitals will start charging a lot more for sugary drinks and foods in order to discourage staff and visitors from purchasing them. "All of us working in the NHS [National Health Service] have a responsibility not just to support those who look after patients but also to draw attention to and make the case for some of the wider changes that will actually improve the health of this country," said NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens.

UK's healthcare spending as a proportion of GDP: 9.1 percent (2013)
Healthcare spending per person: $3,364 (2015)
Average life expectancy: 81 years (2013)

Which brings me back home:

United States of America 

It's much easier to find healthcare news here compared to news about how hospitals and healthcare systems function elsewhere. That may be because healthcare systems in other parts of the world are mature and function at a high level--borne out by the fact that the inhabitants of those other countries all live longer than us and pay far less to do so.

U.S. healthcare spending as a proportion of GDP: 17.1 percent (2013)
Healthcare spending per person: $9,086 (2015)
Average life expectancy: 79 years (2013)

It's easy to raise Cain over hospital parking rates in Canada when you're not worried about $100,000 in out-of-pocket costs for your cancer care. And even in a place driven by religious differences such as Israel, there appears to be no argument that women's health services and HPV vaccinations should be made widely available. 

So instead of complaints about hospital meals and parking costs, here are just some U.S. healthcare stories I read in the past few days:

Federal healthcare spending topped Social Security expenditures for the first time, The Hill reported.

Although Bernie Sanders advocated for single-payer healthcare in Vermont, it was abandoned even before it was implemented, the Daily Beast reported.

A Texas grand jury investigating allegations of misconduct by Planned Parenthood, one of the nation's biggest providers of women's reproductive services, instead led to indictments against two anti-abortion activists who secretly recorded the organization's executives, the New York Times reported.

And a personal favorite of mine: Retired CEO John Podczerwinski railed in The Federalist against people who make less than him getting more financial breaks on their health insurance.

As a news junkie, I want to read pretty much every article that is out there. But in the case of the U.S. healthcare system and healthcare finance against the rest of the world, less seems to be decidedly more. – Ron (@FierceHealth)