Would We Be Better Off with Universal Health Care?

universal health care
The recent Supreme Court ruling to uphold the health insurance mandate created a new series of debates among lawmakers, some who want to repeal the law and others who want to keep it intact. But without assistance provided within the reform law, what other options could help citizens combat rising health care costs?

Many countries around the world have long-ago implemented government-based universal health care options that provide their citizens with widespread access to free or low-cost medical care. However, there are a large number of opponents in the United States that prevent an option like this from being implemented nationwide.

What is a Universal Health Care System?

A government-based universal health care system is one that operates on a national level. It differs from the health care system set up in the United States where private health insurance companies primarily provide coverage for health care, along with government options available to senior citizens and individuals with low incomes.

Many countries operate under the single-payer plan, which requires the government to provide insurance for all residents and pay all health care expenses, with the exception of co-pays and coinsurance. It has been argued that this option would be useful in the United States to ensure the more than 50 million Americans without insurance can access quality health care.

Some countries that currently offer universal health care completely or mostly covered by the government include:

  • Brazil: In Brazil, citizens are given access to both private and public health care, with about 80 percent of the population utilizing the country’s nationalized universal health care system. An estimated 20 percent can afford private health care.
  • South Korea: South Korea has been offering universal coverage since 1989. At that time, the government merged more than 300 individual insurers into a single national fund, according to a report from the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Kuwait: Kuwait began building a universal health care system in the 1950s as it gained wealth from oil revenues. In that decade, the government began implementing comprehensive health care comparable to average European standards, according to WHO.
  • Rwanda: Rwanda currently insures about 91 percent of its population with public health care. The country uses tax revenues, insurance premiums and financial support from donations to pay for the coverage.

According to data from the International Labor Organization, nearly 50 countries have attained universal or near-universal health care coverage by 2008, with a few taking on a single-payer plan. Some examples include the National Health Service in the United Kingdom and the Canadian public health care system.

Why Some Are Uncomfortable with Universal Health Care

With the approval of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the United States has been placed in a position where the country can offer near-universal health care, thanks to the insurance mandate.

Under the insurance mandate, the government requires all citizens to purchase coverage through private, public or non-profit insurance companies, while barring insurers from denying coverage to individuals with preexisting conditions. The new health insurance reform law follows these guidelines, particularly requiring Americans to purchase health insurance by the year 2014 to avoid penalties.

Over the years, a number of arguments against universal, or socialized, health care have surfaced. The biggest argument against implementing a single-payer form of health care is that many believe it allows for too much government intrusion. In other words, citizens would lack control of their health insurance and health care options.

Also, some have argued that a universal health care system could not flow as efficiently as private health insurance to manage payments and that socialized medicine may not be as effective as potentially higher-quality medicine offered privately, because the government will cut corners to save costs. These debates have rocked the nation for years, and the country remains divided on this issue, even after the passage of the new law.

Universal Health Care Pros

There are many arguments in opposition of universal health care — especially when it takes the form of a single-payer option. But below are a few commonly argued universal health care pros:

universal health care system

  • Mandatory health care: Some have argued that one of the benefits of fully universal health care is that care becomes mandatory for the nation, which ensures all citizens can receive medical attention.
  • Affordable costs: With mandatory contributions from the government, health care costs under a single-payer plan are more affordable.
  • Access to better facilities: Many individuals in the United States who receive government assistance with health care are relegated to subpar facilities for care. Arguably, a single-payer option would provide comparable facility access for all citizens.
  • High life expectancy: In Brazil, the life expectancy of citizens increased by 10.6 years over the three decades since the nation began its national program, according to a 2011 article in the medical journal, The Lancet.

Is Universal Health Care a Good Choice for the United States?

Some states have already proposed the idea of a single-payer option. Earlier this year, California pushed legislation to approve single-payer health care  paid for by the government that would meet its residents’ medical needs.

In its second attempt to have a single-payer plan implemented, more than 100 advocates pushed legislation that would cover all residents, including more than 7 million Californians who don’t have health insurance. On January 26, The California Universal Health Care Act was passed in the State Senate on a vote of 37-0.

While California is still in the process of working toward a single-payer system, Vermont has found success in its attempts. In 2011, the state signed a bill into law that made it the first to have a single-payer universal health care system.

On the national level, it’s not likely that a full universal health care system with a single-payer plan will be implemented anytime soon. So with the (partial) universal health care system existing now, Americans will have to decide whether the United States is better off.