Health: Medicine and Insurance in the Netherlands

The Story:

The health insurance system in the Netherlands is rare in western Europe: private for-profit insurance companies play a large role. The system looks familiar to an American: it looks like the goal intended by Obamacare has been achieved: with the help of what Americans would call a ‘public option’ and with vigorous enforcement of the coverage mandate for those who can afford it.


Holland, or more formally since 1815 the Netherlands, is a country with an enthusiastically capitalistic history. Indeed, it hosts the oldest stock exchange, in the modern sense, anywhere in the world. The Amsterdam Stock Exchange was created in 1602. Holland also hosted the single most famous boom-bust cycle in history, the tulipmania of the mid 1630s.

Four hundred years later, the Netherlands continues to be very much a capitalist country, and for-profit insurers are part of the health financing mix. But their participation is heavily regulated. It is not legal in the country for insurers to refuse an application for health insurance or to impose special conditions on its availability.

In Pill Form:

Does it work? Not perfectly but, for the most part: yes. Although in international comparisons the system does not generally get credit for cost containment, Dutch health outcomes are as good or better than those of other first-world countries.

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