Leading policy-makers and scholars explain how market forces, deregulation, and consumer choice can work to improve health care for all Americans.


Curing European Health Care
Helen Disney, Wall Street Journal, 8-9-06

Helen Disney, director of the Stockholm Network, examines recent health care reform movements in Europe that have introduced a consumer driven elements into normally rigid government–controlled programs.

However, she warns that these efforts are often unappreciated by voters and cautions that they may be short–lived. In addition, even reformers have no intention of abandoning Europe's famous commitment to extensive social service programs. Still, they are a reminder that budget conscious policymakers across the developed world are finding creative ways to provide better services at lower prices for their constituents.

Yet this development would never have come about without the so–called Stockholm health–care revolution—structural reform that opened up the supply of health care to more private players. With free–market forces at play, nurses turned out to be in high demand. Besides winning more flexible scheduling, their pay increases shot up, outstripping those in the rest of Sweden's health–care sector by 50%. Almost all union organizations in the Swedish health-care sector now support reforms—a vital element in effecting long–term change.

Similarly, in Britain the governing Labour Party is opening up swaths of the health-care sector to market–based reforms. These include contracting with private–sector vendors to provide set numbers of standard elective surgeries, such as hip operations. This keeps prices down and allows patients to be treated more quickly.

Last but not least, the U.K. government has been championing a set of policies collectively known as "Patient Choice," which allows patients to choose their own hospitals and, with help from a new electronic booking system, gives them more control over when and where they are seen by a doctor.

Unfortunately, Europe's health–care reformers are so far rarely rewarded for their efforts. Slovakia's center–right government lost a June election to left–wingers promising to roll back reforms, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's popularity is waning, in part because he is perceived as being too fond of the private sector. The Private Finance Initiative, under which private firms get long–term contracts to build and manage hospitals, is still considered highly controversial and has helped make the idea of free–market health–care reforms unpopular in Britain.

Despite the scare mongering, many of these efforts have little to do with copying the U.S. system. Instead, they forge long–term, European solutions that will not only save taxpayers money put provide better, more personalized service to all citizens—keeping the Continent's commitment to social solidarity very much intact.

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