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Page last updated at 06:58 GMT, Tuesday, 1 July 2008 07:58 UK
How is healthcare different in US?
By Sima Kotecha
Newsbeat US reporter

All this week on Newsbeat we are looking at how different people experience the NHS on a daily basis as the service celebrates its 60th birthday. So what is it about the UK health service that makes it such an important part of British culture and such a battleground for politicians. Here we look at the differences between the systems in the UK and in the US. There is one big difference. One is free to use. The other isn't.

Minister of Health Aneurin Bevan (second left) at Manchester's Park Hospital in 1948
The NHS was created in the 1940s by the then Labour government

The British model

The National Health Service or the NHS models itself on universal, free healthcare so everybody is covered and is entitled to have it.

This means most things like doctor and hospital appointments, blood tests and operations don't cost a thing.

However, you will be charged if you go to an NHS dentist, have an eye test or have prescriptions for medicine unless you're a pensioner or a child.

How does that work?

Nurses
More than 500,000 nurses now work for the NHS
The health service is paid for by taxpayers. The whole body, including medical staff and hospitals, are actually paid for by the people they serve.

Most people around the UK are proud of the NHS and believe it to be the envy of the world.

It has its problems though - like waiting lists for certain operations, little say for patients over the care they get, and the rise of hospital-based infections or "superbugs".

The American model

The US system is a lot more complex and it costs money.

It operates around health insurance.

If people want medical cover, they need to buy insurance. Like most insurance plans, it involves paying a premium every month which entitles the person to a certain amount of cover.

However, the cover depends on the kind of insurance.

Health insurance varies in cost. It can be anywhere from a $100 (50) to $500 (250) a month but the cheaper it is, the more you have to pay on top of any treatment you receive.

Personal experience

35-year-old Beth Heidere has a $500 (250) a month plan.

But she still had to fork out nearly $700 (350) for a routine cholesterol and blood pressure check up.

Michael Moore
Michael Moore's latest film, Sicko, is about the US health system
She said: "It doesn't make any sense. In Britain you don't have these kind of problems where they're paying so much money every month and then have a bill come in the mail saying, 'We want $700 (350)'.

"The bill says my health insurance will only cover part of it and then I'm responsible for the rest of it."

For those who have no insurance, it's a real problem.

Any medical service, from a doctor's appointment to an operation, has a price tag attached and some things can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For example, a routine check up with your GP can hit the 100 mark.

If you're in a major accident and need emergency care at a hospital, it could run into thousands.

If you've been diagnosed with a terminal illness and require regular specialist treatment, you're looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Some people have lost their lives in the US because they couldn't afford their treatment and therefore didn't receive it.

Around 40 million Americans don't have health insurance.

The system has been controversial for decades and is one of the key topics in the coming general election.



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