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Health care in Finland

July 28, 2009 - Jim Anderson
A Michigan Tech professor, writing at, is unhappy with pundits and politicians who tell horror stories about socialized medicine — reports that are rarely accompanied by data.

In “The Truth about Socialized Medicine,” Audrey Mayer relates her three-year experience with Finland’s public health care system. She gave birth to her son there.

“The care that I received in Finland throughout my pregnancy and childbirth, and for the first nine months of my son’s life, was simply amazing,” she writes.

Upon returning to the U.S., she has had problems with her health insurance plan after just six months.

“In 2001, my mother was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer,” she continues. “Instead of focusing her strength and attention on recovering from a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation, she spent much of her time arguing with the health insurance company and the hospital over bills she had already paid, and routine treatments that should have been covered by her insurance plan. Ultimately she lost her insurance altogether when she lost her job, and she has since been living in remission, uninsured.”

Constant rhetoric about the purported evils of universal public health plans, Mayer writes, is a disservice to Americans. In fact, it makes her blood boil.

“For every anecdote they have about a Canadian waiting six months for necessary open heart surgery, I can find 20 Americans for whom that equally necessary surgery is completely out of reach,” she writes.

“Now is the time for an honest assessment about what (if anything) can be salvaged from our current system, and to put a system in place that does what it is supposed to do: provide health care,” she concludes.

While Mayer’s piece is mostly anecdotal, it’s a heartfelt argument from someone who has experienced both the U.S. health system and a largely socialized system. In 2007, the latest year for which data are available, U.S. spending per person on health care remained the highest in the world at $7,290. (That’s among countries that have comparable accounting systems in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.)

Finland, by comparison, spent $2,840 per person.

The private medical sector accounts for 14 percent of total health care spending in Finland. In the U.S., it’s about 52 percent.

This is, of course, a complicated issue. Beyond the method of funding, there are many factors that help to inflate the cost of U.S. health care. Also, pundits, patients, providers and politicians could trade anecdotes all day about good and bad outcomes in either nation.

But consider this. To reach Finland’s spending rate, the U.S. would have to reduce health care expenses by more than 60 percent. I shudder to think how the systems would compare then.

7/30 Addendum: Here is a link to an Alacra Inc. site that discusses the OECD statistics:


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