International Health Care Systems

Free…with a £1m parking fee

The UK’s Guardian newspaper (“ NHS attacked…“) reports regarding how ‘free’ services for patients are becoming increasingly less free.  Hospitals often charge patients exorbitant rates for parking (£30 a day), hotels, and telephone access, instead of being able to charge patients the true cost of the procedure.  Officials are worried that these fees will create a two-tiered system of care, with those who can afford the fee receiving better care.

This problem illustrates the fact that ‘free’ medical care is never actually free.  Someone has to pay, whether it is taxpayers, patients, or insurers.  Further, a centralized system of care is often slow to change as medical technology and patient demands change.  For instance:

“The report will also demand an overhaul of the prescription charging system to tackle anomalies that mean some patients with long-term, serious conditions get drugs free and others do not, while even millionaires over 65 get free prescriptions.

It will argue that both times and medical demands have changed, creating quirks such as the fact that adult cystic fibrosis sufferers are denied free prescriptions because when the system was invented they were not expected to survive beyond childhood, when their drugs would be free.”