What Is Socialized Medicine?
With the presidential election in full swing, the American health care system is back in the spotlight. While some see the conversation settled with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the debate rages on.
Although the ACA is the law of the land, many still question its efficacy. As prices on everything from prescription drugs to co-pays continue to rise, many wonder whether any of the presidential candidates intend on changing the current system. Unsurprisingly, several do.
Without a doubt, the proposal getting the most attention is the idea of socialized medicine, or universal health care. And while many assume the ACA is socialized medicine, it’s not, and here's why.
The ACA vs Socialized Medicine
There is one primary reason why the ACA is not socialized medicine: The patient is still buying insurance. The ACA was designed to develop competition between private insurance companies in each state, not to create a nationally run health care system.
Imagine socialized medicine not as an insurance plan, but has a health plan. Under a system of socialized medicine, you would not worry about bills or deductibles. Essentially, you go to the doctor or hospital, get the health care you need, then go home.
Socialized medicine is also single payer. This means taxpayer money covers everyone, and by virtue of being a citizen, you have healthcare coverage. This represents another vital difference, as the ACA does not cover those who opt-out or for whatever reason don’t qualify.
A socialized program would completely eschew ‘health insurance,’ but would instead comprise of a national health-care system publicly funded and controlled by elected assemblies of health care workers and patients.
Socialized Medicine: The Results
While the United States may not be using true socialized medicine, almost every other major industrialized country does. Health care as an entitlement has been around in Europe for a long, long time.
There is a group of 34 nations that refer to themselves as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and they comprise some of the most developed countries in the world. While they each have many things in common, only two – The United States and Mexico – do not offer health care as an entitlement.
- Australia: A unique clause in Australia’s universal healthcare system encourages wealthier individuals to use private health care by imposing a 1% tax on those who are above a certain income level, but still use the public system. Everyone else is guaranteed universal health care. The efficacy of Australia’s system is born out in its incredibly low death rates.
- Sweden: Government initiatives in Sweden disincentivize people from visiting specialists when they don’t have to. As a result, Sweden has one of the lowest health care expenditures per capita of any industrialized nation.
- United Kingdom: The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) publicly covers various costs, preventative services and mental health. Additionally, almost 90% of prescription drugs are exempt from charges. The UK routinely ranks first in indicators of health care efficiency.
- Germany: With the longest-running universal healthcare system in the world, Germany is an old hand at providing universal health care for its people. Over 90% of Germans happily use the public system, with the other 10% using a private system (voluntarily). The system is so efficient that Germany spends about half as much as America does on health care per capita, yet the quality of services offered remains equal.
- Canada: America could learn a thing or two from its neighbor to the north. Canada’s national system consists of a centralized body that sets the standards Canadian provinces use to receive funding. Another big difference: Hospitals are private nonprofit organizations.
Certainly, when viewed through the lens of other industrialized nations, socialized medicine doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched concept. Although, to be fair, it is not without its flaws.
Socialized Medicine: Pros and Cons
As with any complex system, there are pros and cons to socialized medicine. Those who support socialized medicine say that all of a country’s citizenry should be afforded the right to live the longest life possible. Opponents say health care is a personal responsibility that isn’t incumbent on the government to provide.
Both sides can lay claim to multiple arguments to support their view. First, let’s take a look at the pros of socialized medicine.
- Since the system is not driven by supply and demand, it lowers health care costs.
- It reduces the risk of premature death.
- It is – quite literally – the world standard.
- It doesn’t negatively impact family finances.
- It could improve economic productivity.
- It creates an environment that nurtures higher levels of accountability.
Next, the cons:
- It could create a major doctor shortage.
- It could create a rationing of health care services.
- It will raise taxes.
- It would make it harder to see a specialist.
- It would increase government spending.
- Doctors would likely earn less.
Does The U.S. Need Socialized Medicine?
The advantages of socialized medicine must be weighed against the advantages of our current system. While democracy and freedom of choice are cherished aspects of American society, someone getting stuck with a $310,000 bill for a routine surgery seems very unreasonable. While socialized medicine would protect them from that charge, free market medicine requires immediate payment.
Where HIV medicines are concerned, the United States does afford some level of support outside of private health care. But as one European transplant quickly found out, getting it proves to be a much more complicated process on this side of the Atlantic.
Medication pricing structures are also vastly different under socialized medicine. In a socialized health care system, we would not see situations where a pharmaceutical company arbitrarily raises the price of a crucial drug used by those living with HIV by 5,000%.
Finally, it’s important to remember that federal law requires emergency treatment whether a person can pay for it or not. The question is not can people access health care, it is how effective and affordable is that access. How would a person with no money for health services fare in either system?
Although the answers to these questions should determine the outcome, with the presidential election heating up and Congress up for grabs, what the future of the American healthcare system will look like in four years is anybody’s guess.