We must talk about how to fund healthcare

March 14, 2015 5:55 PM

The Times carries an excellent leader column (£) today. The paper rightly says that we need an honest debate about new ways to pay for healthcare:

If the next government is serious about preserving the NHS it must level with voters about the need to find new ways to fund it.

That's absolutely spot on. Our Research Director Alex Wild wrote back in January that we need to find a new way to pay for healthcare. As Alex pointed out, it is extremely difficult to have a sensible and rational debate about how to do that:

21 per cent of those recently polled by Lord Ashcroft believe that “private companies should not be allowed to provide NHS services even if this would save money and improve treatment for patients.”

That is an extraordinary position to take. Although it is perhaps unsurprising when popular actors like Michael Sheen make speeches about saving the NHS, seemingly equating any reform with removing the principle of universal healthcare. So illogical is the debate, the "nice" and "caring" position is defending the NHS in its current form when it doesn't do as well as other systems at what it is supposed to do - treat sick people. 

We must open our eyes and look at what works. Our European neighbours are way ahead of us, with insurance based systems that provide universal healthcare. As The Times so aptly notes today:

The approach need not amount to privatisation. However, it will have to borrow from the best systems in other countries. Most deliver better outcomes, especially in the treatment of serious illness. All are insurance-based, with charges in some cases for hospital stays and doctors’ visits. As a result they are better able to keep up with demand. The NHS is a wheezing laggard by comparison.

As Alex said in his article:

It’s difficult to conceive that if we were building a healthcare system from scratch, we would opt for more than £100 billion to be raised in general taxation and handed over to a barely accountable arm’s length body.

Neither would we opt for an American style system, which manages to combine both enormous costs for taxpayers and massive insurance premiums despite not providing universal coverage.

We’d probably opt for a French or Dutch style insurance system with genuine competition, choice and superior outcomes for patients.

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