If you’ve ever been in a debate or argument about health care, it’s likely that the topic of universal health insurance has come up at some point. Health insurance is one of the most stressful things that the average American has to deal with; coverage comes and goes with employment, and some things are covered while others are not. Would universal health insurance be the right system, or are we better off with private health insurance? Let’s take a brief look at universal health insurance and how it works.
What is Universal Health Insurance?
Universal health insurance is essentially full health coverage for every citizen of the country, regardless of socioeconomic, employment or other status. Generally most universal health insurance is funded through taxes, which are distributed throughout governments for the purpose of running the health care system. It is said that the United States is the only wealthy industrialized nation that doesn’t provide universal health insurance to its citizens.
The very first universal health insurance system was launched in the late 19th century in Germany, with countries like Britain following suit shortly after. Most of the countries that operate universal health insurance began after the Second World War, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights brought social and economic rights to the attention of world leaders.
Why is Universal Health Insurance so Popular?
The idea of universal health insurance is one that stirs up debate almost every time it is mentioned. Many believe that providing health care is the responsibility of the federal government, and that it is unjust that there are millions of people in the country without health insurance and who could end up bankrupt if they were to become seriously ill. Universal health insurance removes the risk involved with illness and injury, so members of society are free to be more productive without the worries and high costs that come along with dealing with private health insurance.
Universal health insurance brings the promise of immediate treatment in emergencies, as well. In a country with universal health insurance, you can head straight to a hospital or clinic the minute you suffer an injury, and you will receive full treatment as you are fully insured. Contrast this with the system here in the United States, which requires individuals to go to medical providers that are approved by their health insurance provider – and that’s if they have health insurance. If not, the high costs involved with a hospital stay might force some to consider staying home.
What are some of the Downsides of Universal Health Insurance?
The largest downside of switching the nation to universal health insurance is – far and away – the cost. It’s estimated that providing health insurance for every individual in the nation would cost trillions, and that’s in today’s dollars and without factoring in the rampant cost increases that would run through the system as soon as the federal government started paying all of the bills. Smaller countries like Canada and the Netherlands are viewed as having efficient health care systems, but their ability to provide universal health insurance is tied directly with their low populations. If Canada were to triple in size, its health care costs would be a massive drain on the economy; the USA has ten times the population of Canada, so it’s easy to see why the costs could be a problem.
The other downside of having universal health insurance is ensuring that everyone gets fair treatment as soon as they need it. Wait times are a major problem in countries that offer universal health insurance, as citizens are typically banned from paying for health care and doctors are banned from performing services outside of the system. Wait times of up to a year are not uncommon for things like surgical procedures in countries with universal health insurance; it’s just something that has to be managed.
Will the USA Ever Have Universal Health Insurance?
It’s impossible to know whether or not the United States will ever adopt universal health insurance of the kind that is seen in other G8 countries like Canada and those in Europe. With a population nearing 400 million individuals and some of the highest per-capita health care costs anywhere on the planet, it will be extremely difficult for the federal government to justify spending the trillions of dollars necessary to bring universal health insurance to American citizens. Having said that, the current system is viewed by many as unsustainable, and considering that there is more than 60 million people without any form of health insurance at all, bringing in universal health insurance might be a way to help improve the overall system and help get the country back on track.
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