10 Ways Americans and Europeans Differ


'Free' Health Care

protesters, health care
Protesters hold a small peaceful demonstration in support of government-supported health care on Sept. 23, 2017 in Livingston, Montana. The state of Montana expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. William Campbell-Corbis via Getty Images

Americans might dream of a society where they don't have to pay out of pocket for health care services, save for the occasional prescription or optical and dental services. That's what Brits get, courtesy of their National Health Service (NHS). Some 64.6 million people in England, Scotland and Ireland get free health care at point of use [sources: NHS].

Of course, it's not really "free" since it's funded by U.K. taxpayer dollars. But Americans also pay tax dollars that find their way to health care systems (for instance for Medicaid and Medicare). Yet Americans likely still have to buy private health insurance, as well as pay deductibles, coinsurance fees and any costs not covered by their insurance [source: Romano].

European countries manage health care in different ways across the continent, but the governments usually funds some or most of it. Sweden for instance, funds most of its system with local taxes and patients pay a nominal fee for services. In France, it is compulsory to buy health insurance — premiums are deducted from workers' paychecks. When you go to the doctor, the cost of the visit is reimbursed by the government via a smartcard that is swiped when you visit [source: The Guardian].

However, as European populations age and need more expensive treatments, their governments face some of the same funding issues that America is dealing with. And the NHS, for one, is routinely criticized because patients are subjected to excessively long wait times, both for treatment and tests. The British Red Cross refers to it as a humanitarian crisis, and has been called in to help out in many hospitals [source: Dalrymple]. Nevertheless, the U.S. still outspends all European countries on health care (at 16 percent of GDP) and yet Americans have shorter life expectancies and higher rates of chronic diseases like diabetes [source: Paun].