Health is one of the fundamental human rights. It is for this reason that almost all of the developed nations of the world (along with several developing countries) have prioritized universal health care to secure a better standard of living for their people. Let us explore the concept of the universal healthcare system, what it encompasses so that we can understand the benefits of universal healthcare, and why it is important for the welfare of society.
What is Universal Health Care?
Universal healthcare is the universal coverage of healthcare facilities provided by the government to its people. The universal healthcare system aims to ensure that all people receive essential healthcare at an affordable price.
Is it then only about delivering cheap healthcare service to the people? Universal health care is more than that. It provides a range of services ranging from affordable medical treatment, spread mass awareness regarding health issues, provides safe and clean drinking water, basic sanitation, and so on.
The universal healthcare system also works towards improving the medical infrastructure by enabling the formation of a competent healthcare workforce, invest in research and development in the field of medical science, legislate policies for efficient allocation of budget for the healthcare system.
To sum it up, universal healthcare improves the overall standard of living.
In this system, every individual and family must have access to essential healthcare services.
What are the essential healthcare services?
According to WHO, the essential healthcare services that are provided in a universal healthcare system are divided into 4 broad categories.
- Maternal and infant care – This includes family planning, antenatal and delivery care, immunization of the infants.
- Treatment for infectious diseases – This covers treatment for various infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis.
- Treatment for non-infectious diseases – This aims at prevention as well as treatment for high blood pressure, high blood sugar level, detection of cervical cancer, and checking on diseases caused by the consumption of tobacco.
- Access to services – Access to medical facilities and essential medication as well as improved service provided by a competent workforce.
Five types of Universal Health Care
Compulsory Insurance: Through the enforcement of legislation, it becomes mandatory for individuals to purchase health insurance. In some cases the Government provides insurance. In countries like Switzerland, insurance is provided by private funds under the regulation of the government. One is legally required to purchase health insurance in the universal health care system in this country.
Single Payer: In this system of universal healthcare, the government pays for the healthcare system as it is in Canada. Both private and public-funded organizations are allowed to contractually sell insurance, but the funding is public. “Single payer” defines only the mechanism, where a single government organization funds the entire insurance service, although in some countries the funding body is a mixed one managed by both public and private organizations.
Tax-based financing: In this system, the healthcare system is funded by the tax collected from the people. There are countries like India, Spain, Brazil, fund the healthcare system entirely through taxation. There are countries that compensate by providing welfare to people who are under-privileged and are unable to pay for their healthcare. The welfare may be provided in the form of state-funded insurance or by directly providing for their healthcare expenses.
Social health insurance: This system of healthcare is also known as the Bismarck Model, named after Otto Von Bismarck who introduced universal health care in Germany. In this process, the system is funded by the workers, enterprises, and governments of the state, the funding can be allocated to different functions like preventive care or public health management. The responsibility for the provisions made through these funds is on the Ministry of Health.
Private Insurance: In this system, the consumer directly pays for the insurance service, sold to them by the insurance companies. Unlike public-funded insurances, this system is a voluntary system. In some cases, profit-based firms, as well as non-profit funds may function together. The choices and options of insurance services are diverse, where the benefits and the coverage of the policies depend on their prices.
In some countries that have universal coverage with private insurance schemes, companies may not cover treatment costs that are comparatively higher. In such cases, the public funding system bears the expenses of expensive health care services.
A list of some of the countries with universal healthcare system:
- United Kingdom – In the United Kingdom, the healthcare system is publicly owned.
- Sweden – The healthcare system in Sweden is funded through taxation.
- Spain – The healthcare system in Spain is publicly funded. The state pays for the healthcare of all the citizens, and in some cases, it also covers the expenses of non-citizens.
- Japan – In Japan it the purchase of insurance has been made mandatory through legislation. The patients are allowed to avail of any insurance services and are provided coverage under all circumstances.
- Hong-Kong – Hong-Kong has a developed healthcare system. This country has advanced healthcare technologies and has contributed immensely to the research and development in the field of medical science.
Benefits of Universal Healthcare
There are several advantages of universal health care.
- The overall cost of healthcare is reduced. The government regulates the medical market to discriminate and produce standard healthcare pricing.
- Reduce administrative costs. As the healthcare personnel directly deals with the government, the intermediary transaction costs with other agencies such as the insurance are excluded. Thus the overall cost of healthcare is lowered.
- Quality service is available at a price that is lower than that in a competitive market. A competitive market targets the wealthy section of the society who can afford expensive healthcare. The universal healthcare system is meant for everyone therefore the same service is provided at a lower price under government regulation.
- A uniformly competent workforce is formed in the universal healthcare system. Improving the service provided by primary care physicians at an affordable rate so that the quality of service that can be accessed only at emergency rooms is made accessible universally.
- Universal healthcare is a part of the sustainable development of society. High expenditure under a privately owned healthcare system might cause a financial crisis. This is extremely detrimental to the development of the next generation. Poverty in such a system increases exponentially with each generation thus harming the overall societal standard. The universal healthcare system prevents this cumulative growth of poverty and is thus very important for the healthy development of children in society.
- Regulation of taxes can ensure healthier life choices. By increasing tax on alcohol and tobacco, the government can generate revenue that can be allocated to the universal healthcare system, which at the same time discourages people from adapting to harmful habits such as smoking.
From these benefits of universal healthcare, we can ascertain why it is so important to have universal health care. This health system provides a basis for the economic as well as the overall betterment of the society in a sustainable manner.