Health Care Systems in the “World’s Happiest Countries”

It’s no secret to any of us that the American health care system is lacking in certain aspects. Have you ever thought about what role our health care’s dysfunction plays in the country’s overall happiness? The World Happiness Report ranks 156 countries by their happiness each year. For about five years, there has been a similar trend: The happiest countries all have free health care systems. While socialized health care will not instantly create a happier country, the ability to seek treatment for mental and physical illnesses without causing financial stress leads to a happier country overall.

Here are the world’s top five happiest countries and with a brief explanation of their respective health care systems:


Since 1973, Denmark has had a high quality, universal health care system financed mainly through income taxes. Danish and European Union citizens are eligible for free medical treatment in Denmark. Public officials in Denmark have worked hard to reduce bureaucracy in the system so that the majority of medical administration is performed at a local level. This system is also broken into two sectors: the primary sector for those with general health issues, and the hospital sector for those who need specialized care.


The Swiss health care system is more similar to American health care, as it is not free. Swiss residents must purchase a health insurance policy within three months of arriving in the country. Insurers in Switzerland sell a standardized form of basic insurance that covers a wide range of medical services. Companies cannot make money on selling these plans, but instead they make money selling complementary insurance that covers extra medical services. It’s also required for consumers to pay at least part of their health costs in the form of a deductible or other fees.


In Iceland, all legal residents are covered by the Icelandic social insurance system. Hospital admissions and the majority of outpatient appointments are paid for by this system. There is a token fee to see general practitioners and specialists, with fees for specialists being higher. The primary healthcare is split up into hospitals, health institutions and healthcare clinics. If you need to see a specialist in Iceland, you do not need a referral from a GP.


Norway has a mix of public and private health insurance, but the public system is much bigger and more popular. Similarly to other countries, citizens are entitled to free health care through a system financed through taxes.


The health care system in Finland includes a decentralized, three-level publicly funded healthcare system and much smaller private sector. The local governments are responsible for providing healthcare to residents, while the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has the highest decision-making authority. Finland offers universal healthcare and these policies have focused on health promotion, including disease prevention, for decades. This has resulted in the elimination of certain communicable diseases and improvement in the population’s overall health.