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Comparison of the UK and USA Health Care Systems



As UK and the US enter a new period of deliberation about the future of their health care system, there has been a strong ongoing debate on whose health care system is the best. This essay will compare UK’s National Health Service and the US’s varying ways to addressing its citizen’s health services needs, in terms of care access, quality, efficiency, equity and healthy lives.

Comparison of the UK and USA Health Care Systems

Both the UK and the US have instituted reforms within their system boundaries; USA’s private healthcare market with subsidies and reforms to insure more Americans, and Britain’s National Health Service to cover everyone as a matter of right. The taxpayers will still fund the health care systems in the UK. Primary care doctors will be provided with money to spend on their patients in terms of buying services like X-rays and tests from clinics and hospitals of NHS as they are doing currently, but increasingly from cooperatives, charities, or private companies, thereby opening up the NHS to more privatized services. Americans on the other hand will still enjoy their coverage provided by their employer. Higher premiums, higher deductibles and more cost sharing will take place in insurance. They will pay more for less coverage (Donahue, 2014).

Private sector businesses own and operate health care facilities in the US. Most US population under 67 pays for their expenses through health insurance, from their employer or a family member’s employer. The US Census Bureau (2011) reported that 10% of Americans purchase health insurance directly, while 55% obtain it through an employer. Those enrolled in a public health insurance program were 31%. In the UK, the government facilitates healthcare through the National Health Service (NHS). Public healthcare is received by permanent residents free. Payment is through general taxation, and only dentistry and prescriptions are paid by the outpatient.

The health outcomes for UK and US differ. 78.4 years is the average life expectancy in the US, ranking 50th among 221 countries. The results reported by National Institutes of Health showed that, among the 17 high income countries, the prevalence of heart and lung disease, disability, sexual transmitted infections and infant mortality was in the US. In the UK, life expectancy is 80.75 years. The NHS was rated as having the best healthcare system in terms of cost related problems, effective care, and efficiency when compared to Germany, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the USA (Woolf, & Aron, 2013)

The Business Insider provided a report of a patient who has spent his half-life in US and half-life in UK. According to the patient, in the US one calls their doctor and request an appointment when it’s convenient for the patient, if it is not an emergency. The doctor checks with the patient to find out if it is emergency or something that does not need immediate treatment. The appointment is on the basis of first come, first served service regardless of how important it may be. In the UK, an appointment is given by the nurse or doctor and the patient does not choose the time or day. The assumption is that if one is sick he or she should go see the doctor when the doctor says. The appointment is quick as there are targets that need to be met by local health authority in London (Edwards, 2015). The logic is UK’s health care is a public health system which needs to manage its services and costs, and whoever is truly sick can easily show up and will not depend on the convenience.

The UK’s NHS discourages some types of patients for good reason; posters have been put up in hospitals and NHS offices warning patients with a cold or flu not to show at the emergency room. Patients with minor ailments are encouraged to see their regular doctors instead of seeking emergency treatment (Harrison, 2012). This makes sense as a lot of money and time is wasted in hospitals treating non-emergency cases. In the US, patients are not discouraged from doing anything in any way. There are no public campaigns requesting patients with minor ailments not to go an emergency room. The entire US pharmaceutical industry is number one in running campaigns encouraging people to go see their doctors. The treatment of patients from both UK and US are the same as 95% of doctors are professionals and understand what they do.

The UK health care system has no paperwork unlike the US where is a load of paperwork for patients, especially the billing paperwork. This is cumbersome for someone who requires a simple doctor visit and is forced to go through un-ending series of letters, bills and forms. It is stressful and somehow impossible to correct an error on the bill. This creates an intense dislike of US insurance companies. NHS has almost zero paperwork and the much a patient can do is to fill a form informing the doctor about himself or herself and the place of resident. A letter is also sent to the patient as appointment reminder. A text message is also sent to the patient as a reminder, something that rarely happens in the US (Edwards, 2015).

UK health care system has a long wait for treatment compared to the US. Patients in the US who need special attention can see a specialist within a few days of requesting for an appointment. This makes US score higher in this area than UK. Waiting times in NHS is real and it can be frustrating for someone who has a life- or health-threatening condition. It is also difficult to change an appointment as a patient has to call several times to catch the booking staff of the hospital at the right time of day. Patients are booked according to the hospital’s priority and not the patients’.

The cost incurred by the patient is much cheaper in the UK compared to the US. It can cost patients 0 pounds to access some top-notch healthcare. Though there is nothing like ‘free’, but The UK’s healthcare per-capita cost is generally lower than the US, because the government of UK through tax collections funds the healthcare (World Health Organization, 2015). For instance, NHS prices include zero pounds of doctor visit, specialist, diagnostic test and MRI. The US prices on the other hand include $100 doctor visit, $150 specialist, $72 diagnostic test and $1000 MRI (Healthcare Bluebook, 2015). The total health care prices in US are paid by the patient in cash, or copay with 90% from insurance and 10% from a patient.

The health care system of UK covers everyone equally. In the US patients access health care services depending on their ability to pay, leaving millions of people with minimal access to care (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2014). Obamacare is trying to change this, but comparing them in terms of the standards of universal full-service coverage, NHS is way beyond.


Both the US and the UK health care systems have the same imperative: to ensure that customers consumer good services, avail well intentioned health-care and well-trained professionals to deliver services in the most effective and efficient manner regardless of resource constraints they face. The UK healthcare system can easily be preferred compared to the US. Though it is a little inconveniencing when it comes to appointments, but the fact that it provides free services, fast treatment, covers everyone equal and has no paper work makes the NHS to win. The UK and US health care managers and policy makers should not miss the opportunity to progress by learning from each other

Reference List

DeNavas, C, Proctor, BD & Jessica CS 2011, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010. U.S. Census Bureau, viewed 20 March 2015,

Donahue G 2014, Examining England’s health care reform. Benefits Pro, viewed 20 March 2015,

Edwards, J 2015, What it’s like when you’re an American using Britain’s NHS. Business Insider, viewed 20 March 2015,

Harrison, A 2012, International Profiles of Health Care Systems: The English Health Care System. International PRO The Commonwealth Fund.

Health Care Bluebook. Medical Prices, viewed 20 March 2015,

Kaiser Family Foundation, 2014. Key Facts about the Uninsured Population, viewed 20 March 2015,

Woolf, SH & Aron, L 2013. US Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health. National Research Council and Institute of Population, Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice.

World Health Organization 2015. Global Health Observatory Data Repository, viewed 20 March 2015,