By Param Bhatter
The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, will face multiple challenges during its implementation over the next few years. The act is attempting to increase affordability and quality of health insurance, expand public health coverage and mandate similar coverage rates for those with preexisting conditions, in what is often portrayed as a collective effort to socialize healthcare. Even though the United States is far from a fully subsidized healthcare system, there is much to learn going forward if this goal is to be met. Denmark, where the social healthcare system has overcome adversities and flourished, is a rather interesting place to look to as an example. In Prospect’s exclusive interview with a Danish international exchange student, Peter Hjorth Vindum revealed his views on the benefits and issues the Danish healthcare system has faced.
Peter began by describing an overview of the Danish healthcare system. Fully subsidized by the government, there is truly only one hospital system that operates over the entire country. These hospitals treat all Danish citizens completely free of charge, regardless of their age, preexisting medical conditions or employment. Because of this centralization of healthcare, the overall system runs more efficiently; for example, the centralized infrastructure allows faster patient data transfer. While this seems to work extremely well in Denmark, it is important to note that Obamacare takes a different approach by focusing on increasing competition between providers, as this is expected to cause the overall quality of healthcare to rise. Even though allowing citizens to compare and select the best insurance providers is currently a valid strategy for accomplishing the goals of the ACA, in the future it may also be in America’s best interest to centralize the system for total efficiency, as Denmark has done.
Peter then described some of the issues that have plagued the healthcare system in Denmark for the past couple of years, and what the government has done to combat these problems. Peter argued that the worst part of having a centralized healthcare system is that treatment is often inaccessible in rural parts of Denmark, as all hospitals and most outpatient clinics are located in cities or suburban areas. People often have to drive up to 50 miles for a weekly checkup, or even further for access to surgical treatments. To counteract this problem, the Danish government has been focusing on developing more outpatient clinics and on increasing the number of emergency care centers in rural areas. While not all treatment types are available for patients at these outpatient clinics, patients don’t have to encounter long ambulance lines and waits at the emergency rooms.
One of the unsolved issues that still remains for Danish citizens’ concerns the quality of care at these mega-hospitals. One major issue is overcrowding at hospitals, creating long waits for procedures in cases that are not immediately life threatening. Hospitals are usually fully booked, with patients sharing rooms and being rushed out as soon as possible. Additionally, there are long waiting lines for surgeries, often more than a month, and patients are forced to cope with their problems while they wait. However, Peter claims that this trend is increasingly accepted as the norm, as people understand that it is impossible to have excellent, individualized care for every single citizen. No matter the socio-economic status of the patients, the facility and doctors that treat them are the same. This equality is what drives the system effectively and allows it to work with minimal issues.
If America looks to move forward in improving the overall quality of life for all of its citizens, healthcare must be of the utmost political importance. In Denmark, Peter says, the healthcare system is considered to be sacred. Just as in the United States, fiscal issues and deficit spending plague Denmark continuously. However, the Danish citizens and their government refuse to even touch the healthcare portion of the budget, which in turn leads to better treatment and care throughout the country. Obamacare is projected to decrease the national deficit by cutting down on overhead spending in various areas of healthcare, if the ACA is enacted as written. Now that we have instituted the ACA, we will only have to wait and see if this actually will lead to better quality healthcare with less debt, which at best could even outdo the Danish healthcare system’s successes.
Image by Karen Mardahl