How Different Is Health Insurance Around The Globe?


You can’t put a price on health, but some countries are more willing to shell out on health insurance than others. Unsurprisingly, one report found that all high-income countries have a practically full health insurance coverage, save for the US. And though most low-income countries don’t have much coverage, some exceptions include Gambia, Rwanda, and Vanuatu, who all have higher health coverage than the US. So how different are health insurance policies around the globe?

Health Insurance In Australia

Healthcare in Australia is funded by the public and private sector, though government spending accounts for 67 percent of healthcare expenditures. Medicare, the tax-funded universal healthcare system in Australia, is available to all Australian citizens and permanent residents. The government also funds up to 30 percent of private health insurance premiums for people eligible for Medicare.

People who earn more pay an additional income tax called a medical levy surcharge. The medical levy surcharge thresholds vary depending on your income and your civil status. Singles who earn more than $90,000 are required to pay the surcharge. Meanwhile, couples, families, and single parents are required to pay the surcharge if they earn more than $180,000. However, this threshold increases by $1,500 for every dependent child after the first child. For both singles and couples or families, the amount of the surcharge varies from 1 percent to 1.5 percent depending on income levels.

Many Australians also have private health insurance, which has two kinds of coverage: hospital coverage for the cost of the treatment, and general treatment coverage for non-medical health services like dental, optical, and physiotherapy services. While many Australians get private health insurance from their employers, some buy insurance independently. The Australian government also gives a rebate based on income to help with the cost of private health insurance.

Health Insurance In The United States

Unlike other industrialized high-income countries, the United States does not have universal healthcare. People under 65 usually get insurance from an employer (either their own or a family member’s) or by purchasing health insurance themselves. 11.9 percent of American adults are uninsured.

Some reforms, such as the Affordable Care Act of 2010, were designed to give healthcare coverage to those without it. However, the cost of healthcare in the US continues to grow. According to the World Health Organization, the United States’ annual healthcare expenditures amount to 17.1 percent of the country’s GDP or US$9,403 per capita, making the country the biggest spender on healthcare worldwide.

These large figures are largely due to pricing. In general, medical practitioners earn more in the US compared to other countries — while general physicians in the US made about US$220,000 in 2016, generalists in Sweden made just US$86,607. And because so many Americans are uninsured and cannot afford proper healthcare, not having insurance can be deadly. One 2009 study found that a lack of insurance causes almost 45,000 preventable deaths in the United States.

Health Insurance in Hong Kong

According to a 2018 Bloomberg report, Hong Kong has one of the most efficient health care systems in the world, with a high life expectancy (of 84.3) at a relatively low cost: 5.7% of GDP or US$2,222 per capita. Public healthcare provides free treatments to people with Hong Kong identity cards, but because of a shortage of health practitioners and a higher demand for healthcare, patients may need to wait for months to get treatment, unless it’s an emergency.

Getting treatment from private institutions lets patients choose doctors and schedule checkups, but private health care in Hong Kong is quite costly — the second most expensive in the world, after the United States. To be able to afford private healthcare, getting private health insurance is recommended, either through one’s employer or independently. The government has also started encouraging more residents to get private insurance to relieve the stress on the public system.

The nature and importance of private health insurance varies from country to country. The necessity of having private health insurance depends largely on the availability of affordable treatment, as well as support from the government. How does your own country fare?

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