A guide to the US healthcare system

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A guide to the US healthcare system

The US healthcare system is something of an enigma to us in the UK. After all, we enjoy and appreciate the services provided free by the National Health Service. The USA may have some of the best medical equipment, doctors and invests vast sums of cash into their health service, but the country doesn’t measure up well when compared to other nations.

Forty countries, including the UK have greater life expectancy than the US. It also does poorly on infant mortality. When the World Health Organisation compiled its rankings of global health care systems in 2000, the USA came in at 37th place.

In 2009 the USA spent a whopping 17.4% of GDP on health, a figure far above the average that other wealthy nations spend and placing the States firmly at the top of the spending leagues. Typically other countries spend an average of 9.6%. The country that spends the second highest amount is the Netherlands that invests 12% of its national wealth. We take a look at how the US healthcare system works and the potential costs that expats can face.

How the US model works

In the United States Health Care is provided by private hospitals and clinics, there is no free public healthcare system similar to the UK’s National Health Service. Instead most citizens are covered by health insurance. Normally this insurance is provided by the individual’s employer and extends to his or her immediate family. This however still costs the person money as due to the increasing cost of health care and the economic difficulties caused by the global recession; employers have increasingly asked workers to pay a contribution. When a citizen retires they can receive aid through the Medicare programme. Medicaid meanwhile is state aid for the poor.

Insurance costs

Health insurance in the USA costs a lot but is vital if you don’t want your all of your life savings drained after a heart attack or major accident. Insurance advisors will always recommend that you take out comprehensive insurance when going o the US, which they may not do with other countries. The reason for this is that American doctors tend to run more tests and scans than their European counterparts. Naturally tests are expensive and are often not covered in most budgets.

The cost to fully insure yourself and a partner ranges from £9,000 per year to as much as £20,000 depending on your ages and health. A single person can insure themselves for at least £2,000. The best way to get a better deal is to shop around. Be aware that not all UK based providers can offer cover beyond the first year of your stay in the USA. After the first yea you may have to find cover with a US based company.

Do you need cover?

Unlike in most advanced countries, expats in the US, or even holidaymakers, are not required to have medical cover. Such a stipulation would sit oddly with its fairly lax approach to its own citizens.

But the catch is that anyone who does not have appropriate insurance runs the risk of paying colossal bills and runs the risk of getting no medical attention at all. The US Embassy in London recommends buying cover in advance or soon after arrival.

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