Belgium and the United States face similar challenges in dealing with health care costs. Their elderly populations will more or less double over the next 25 years, aggregate health care expenditures will continue to rise, and health care costs will most likely grow at a faster rate than general inflation. Government budgets will struggle to meet their legislative mandates to finance quality health care for their respective constituents.
Devoting only half as much of its GDP to health as the United States does, Belgium has created a flexible, public-private partnership to pay for and deliver health care that preserves many of the attributes that Americans desire: universal coverage; comprehensive coverage of physician services, hospital care, and prescription drugs; free choice of primary physicians and specialists; and acceptable waiting periods for non-emergency services.
On February 5, 2007, Brookings hosted a presentation on these issues by the architect of Belgium’s recent health care policy, Minister for Social Affairs and Public Health, Rudy Demotte. Minister Demotte discussed the measures that Belgium uses to contain costs and reduce budget deficits in the health sector, while preserving quality care. Brookings Senior Fellow Henry Aaron and Kaiser Family Foundation Executive Vice President Diane Rowland reflected what lessons can be learned from the Belgian experience.