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Universal Health Care

The United States is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not provide health care to all its citizens.
~Institute of Medicine

What is It

Universal health care is the belief that all citizens should have access to affordable, high-quality medical care.

Structure and Funding of Universal Health Care

Universal health care is a broad concept that can be structured and funded in various ways. The common factor for all universal health care programs is that they require some form of government involvement, whether it is through legislation, mandates, or regulation. The laws determine what type of care must be provided, to whom the care must be provided, and the basis for determining coverage.

In some universal health care programs the government may also manage the health care system, but in many instances the health care system uses both public and private health care providers.

Funding for universal health care is provided by the population, whether through compulsory health insurance, taxation, or a combination of both. Some health care costs may be paid by the patient and some health care costs may be covered by the universal health insurance program.

Single Payer Health Insurance Systems

Health Care

Many people who support universal health care prefer a system known as “single payer health insurance.” Single payer health insurance is one in which the government finances health care but is not involved in delivering the care, much like Medicare and Medicaid. This idea fits the broader definition of socialized medicine, but it is a distinctly different system from the more literal meaning of socialized medicine in which the government also employs the health care professionals and is involved in health care delivery.

Universal Health Care vs Socialized Medicine

Although some people refer to universal health care as socialized medicine, the concepts are not completely synonymous. The term “socialized medicine” is primarily used only in the United States by those who do not support the idea of universal health care. Outside the US, the terms most used are universal health care or public health care. The actual definition of socialized medicine is somewhat varied and inconsistent in usage, though it generally describes any system of health care that is publicly financed, government administered, or both.

  • For some, socialized medicine is specific to systems in which the government both operates the health care facilities AND employs the health care professionals. In the United States, examples of this type of care are the United States Veterans Health Administration, and the medical departments of the US Army, Navy, and Air Force.
  • Others consider socialized medicine in broader terms as any system that is partially or totally funded by government although health care is provided by private business. Examples of this type of health care system in the United States is Medicare, Medicaid, and the US Military’s TRICARE.

Socialized Systems in a Capitalist Society

Many Americans believe in a free market society, and thus their beliefs may extend to health care as well. While a capitalist structure, supply and demand, and a free market system help regulate business models, should health care be run as a profit-driven industry? This is a basic issue at the core of the universal health care debate. Currently, many socialized programs provide a wide variety of beneficial services to Americans, including police departments, fire departments, public libraries, public schools, Medicare, Medicaid, and the US Military and Veterans health programs. Socialized programs can play an important role in capitalist societies – the challenge is in finding the right balance and determining how the United States can best provide health care for all its citizens.