An Overview of Universal Health Care in the U.S.
Universal health care is a form of medical insurance that is provided by the government to all residents of a country. U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in March, 2010, but it will not go into effect until 2014. Until that time, the U.S. is the only major industrialized country without an active universal health care system. While numerous proposals have been suggested over the years, all have died long before they could be instituted. The issue of universal health care was the basis for presidential campaign platforms as early as 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt, a progressive Republican, ran on a pro-universal health care platform. The debate has continued to this day.
Critics of universal health care claim that such a system would remove all personal choice from the issues concerning an individual's health care and medical decisions by essentially making any medical decision a political one in which the government would be entwined. In order for such a system to be workable, then, the government would either have to restrict access to unnecessary treatments and elective surgeries, or would have to allow unfettered access to any and all treatments. Critics argue that these impractical choices would either severely decrease the flexibility, or severely increase the cost, of health care, neither choice being desirable.
Essentially, this argument concludes that a permissive universal health care system would result in an abundance of abuse and a sharp increase in taxes in order to fund health care, while a restrictive universal health care system would result in a lack of choices for individuals in need of services.
Those in favor of universal health care claim that it is a basic right of citizenship, much like education, and should be provided to all citizens as a birth right, free of charge. There are two distinct positions within the pro-universal coverage stance regarding the proper role of the government in health care. The universal insurance model would require that the government provide every citizen with compensation for medical care, similar to the manner in which private insurance companies currently operate; conversely, the universal care model would require that the government itself provide the necessary medical facilities and procedures for its citizens. The two proposals are not mutually exclusive, much as private schools exist alongside public schools, but most proponents of universal health care favor government-subsidized care, rather than government-provided care. They claim that health care funded by tax revenue would avoid the inflexibility issue, as the only difference between the current and proposed systems would be the party or entity that actually pays the bills.
Basic Terms, Concepts, and Definitions Related to Universal Healthcare in the U.S.
Managed Care: Currently the dominant health care delivery system in the United States, managed care seeks to make individual health care as efficient and cost-effective as possible. Different managed care organizations (MCOs) have different definitions of essential care, and, accordingly, coverage and cost vary widely. Often, there are restrictions on where members can receive covered medical care.
Medicaid: A taxpayer-funded government program that provides health insurance to low-income individuals and families. Medicaid is administered by the individual states, so regulations and eligibility requirements may vary from state to state.
Medicare: A taxpayer-funded government program that provides health insurance to elderly and disabled persons. Signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Medicare is an amendment to the Social Security Act.
Multi-Payer: A health care system in which health care costs are paid for by multiple entities, often including public and private contributions, as well as tax revenue.
Single-Payer: A health care system in which a single entity pays the costs of health care. In countries with single-payer universal health care, the single payer is usually the government or a government-run organization.
Socialism: An economic and cultural model that aims to provide everyone with equal access to basic human rights. Under a socialist model, the society, rather than the individual, is the dominant entity, and all decisions should be made for the benefit of the society as a whole, rather than for the benefit of individual interests. Some see socialism as the evolution of humanity to a position of compassion and altruism, while others see it as a haven for laziness, in direct opposition to the capitalist democracy of the United States.
Social Security: The largest government-funded program in the world, Social Security is a program funded by payroll taxes that provides benefits to retired, disabled and widowed Americans. Social Security's beneficiaries are sometimes referred to as OASDI, which is an acronym for Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law in 1935 as one of his major initiatives for fixing the problems that resulted from the Great Depression.