Missing Fact on British Health Care

The New York Times had an interesting piece on the poor state of the dental care provided by the British public health care system in its Sunday paper. The article reports that people face long waits for even emergency dental care, and that many now turn to private dentists or go to foreign countries for treatment.

Readers naturally feel sorry for the plight of Britons with bad teeth and are thankful that here in the United States we have an efficient private health care system. The key fact missing in the story is that Britain spends less than 40 percent as much person for its health care as the United States. Whatever the relative merits of the British mechanism for providing health care and the U.S. system, it would be truly astonishing if the British system could best the U.S. in every category, spending just 40 cents to our dollar. (Britain does much better on life expectancy for its 40 cents.)

This article is part of a long series of articles in the New York Times which could go under the title of "the problem of publicly financed health care systems." Previous articles in this series have noted problems in French, British, and most often the Canadian health care systems. Articles in this series almost never mention the fact that the health care system in question costs far less than the U.S. system or that it produces longer life expectancies. My guess is that most of the highly educated readers of the New York Times are ignorant of these basic facts about health care, even though Paul Krugman has done a heroic job of trying to fill the information gap in his columns.

--Dean Baker

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