What Can We Learn From European Hospice Care and Life Insurance Policies?
Worldwide, health care continues to be a hot topic for debate. No one can seem to agree on what system is best. In the United States, healthcare is different compared to other countries and many people long for a universal health care system like the types found in Europe and elsewhere around the globe. But is universal health care really better than a private system or government-funded program like Medicaid? When it comes to hospice care and life insurance, there may be several things the United States can learn from Europe.
Many people feel that health care is a basic human right, not a luxury. So when it comes to comparing the cost of private American health care to universal health care abroad, there’s little contest. Unlike their American counterparts, Europeans with access to Universal Health care don’t pay for their health care outright; instead, their tax money goes toward the general public fund for health insurance. Even still, Americans spend more on health care than any other country in the world.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2010, the United States spent over $8,000 on each person’s health. In comparison, most of Europe spends an average of $3,500 USD on each citizen’s health per year. Even the next highest spending country in the OECD, Norway, only spends $5,300 USD per citizen each year.
Unfortunately, the fact that Americans spend more on health care doesn’t necessarily mean that the health care they have access to is better. When comparing the number of physicians and hospital beds in the US, Americans continue to fall behind their OECD counterparts. As of 2010, Americans have 2.4 physicians per 1,000 people, whereas the OECD average is 3.1. There’s an even greater discrepancy with hospital beds as the US average is 2.6 per 1,000 people and the OECD boasts a significantly higher 3.4 beds.
Hospice in the US and Abroad
The gaps only worsen when it comes to dying and end-of-life care. Less than a quarter of the people who die in America make use of hospice services. In contrast, the WHO reports that nearly thirty million people die each year from diseases that require hospice care. Of those, the biggest portion is comprised of adults over 60 years old. In other words, the vast majority of Americans who should seek hospice care at the end of their lives do not receive it.
While it is true this could be for a number of reasons, including refusal to seek hospice care, the comparison still is not good. With fewer physicians and hospital beds in the US, it may be harder to find a hospice care program when one approaches the end of their life. Although Medicaid is widely available to most senior citizens in the United States, those who need it the most may find it difficult to acquire. Furthermore, many Americans choose to go without insurance, preferring instead to pay for their own health care out of pocket. This further limits their access to health care providers as they approach the end of their lives.
In Europe, there is a tremendous discrepancy amongst countries and their levels of hospice availability. While palliative care is a recognized subspecialty in England and Ireland, other European countries are just now beginning to develop certification for hospice care. Where Americans fail to seek hospice care, Europeans request it but find the quality of care to be lacking. One report from the Care Quality Commission in the United Kingdom states that forty percent of hospitals are in dire need of improving their hospice programs.
As Europe furthers efforts to improve availability and quality of palliative care, America could stand to take note and follow suit. According to the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC), there is a push to improve not only the quality of care patients receive, but also to normalize health care standards across facilities, with continued efforts to improve in the foreseeable future.
Life Insurance in Europe and America
As people approach the end of their lives, there is another factor besides hospice that tends to become extremely important: life insurance. But, despite the lead Europe seems to have over the United States in regards to the price and availability of health care, the reverse seems to be true in regards to life insurance. Reports over the past several years have indicated a downward spiral in European life insurance.
Since there is not one single organization to regulate life insurance in Europe, the types of policies available to citizens tend to fluctuate greatly. Because of this, Europe is currently undergoing drastic changes in how they write and service life insurance. Like hospice care, there is a tremendous effort to regulate life insurance across international borders since many countries have begun to reduce the amount and types of benefits their policyholders receive.
Regardless of your financial status or background, end of life care is a very serious topic when you realize the end may be near. Luckily for individuals approaching their golden years, it looks like there is a global effort to improve both the quality of hospice care as well as the benefits of life insurance. As the United States and Europe both look to level the playing field and provide better health care for their citizens, it appears that end of life care may become less of a burden on families in the not too distant future.