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Universal Health Care: What's the Debate All About?


In 2007, Americans spent $2.3 trillion on health care. This amounts to $7,600 for every person. Meanwhile, health insurance premiums increased by over 6 percent, which is about twice the rate of inflation.

universal health care

Rising health care costs are demanding health care reform in the United States.

A family of four can now expect to spend over $12,000 a year on premiums for an employer health plan, while singles will spend about $4,400.

Not surprisingly, many people are finding these costs hard to swallow, and as a result 47 million Americans (that's 16 percent of the population) are uninsured.

One thing that everyone agrees on is a need for health care reform. But when it comes to one of the proposed solutions -- universal health care -- opinions are sharply divided.

What is Universal Health Care?

Universal health care guarantees that every American will have access to health care. The specifics of the plan can vary, but the underlying premise is to ensure that everyone has coverage.

Currently, many people do not get necessary health care, either because they cannot afford it or because they've been denied insurance coverage due to a preexisting medical condition.

According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which recommends universal health care, about 18,000 people die every year in the United States because they don't have health insurance. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not have a universal health care system, according to IOM, and this makes the United States a nation in which health care is a privilege instead of a right.

According to universal health care's supporters:

  • Universal health care can save money because it allows people to get preventive medical care that can reduce chronic disease expenses.

  • It allows people who are staying in their job just for the medical coverage freedom to get another job.

  • It increases global competitiveness for U.S. businesses, because they will no longer be responsible for all health insurance costs.

  • It would end unfair health insurance discrimination so that no American would be denied coverage or forced to pay excessive premiums.

The Case Against Universal Health Care

universal health care

About 18,000 people die each year in the United States because they don't have health insurance, according to the Institute of Medicine.

Though it sounds good in premise, not everyone is in favor of universal health care. The central argument for those opposed is that government interference is what caused many of the problems with the current health care system, and more government involvement via universal health care would only further complicate matters.

On one hand, a national health insurance plan provided by the government could explode budgets, raise taxes, restrict access to alternative medicine providers, and downplay medical innovation. Meanwhile, a plan that requires every American to buy "affordable" health insurance could also backfire as lobbyists petition the government to "require" more and more coverage. In time, the minimum package could get expensive.

Also a concern is that universal health care would take away doctors' autonomy and ability to earn a high income, which could exacerbate the doctor shortage already facing the United States. In fact, one survey by physician recruiting firm found that 20 percent of doctors say they will quit practicing medicine if universal health care is implemented.

The solution according to some is the complete opposite of universal health care: remove all controls and make health care a free market.

This competition would force costs to come down and then Americans could decide what they wanted to spend their health dollars on.

For now, the debate remains a hot one, the issues raised by both sides complex. And while experts say that change in the health-care arena is inevitable, no one is sure just what the future holds for health care in America.

Recommended Reading

Physicians Create List of Who Will Live and Who Will Die in Pandemic / Disaster Scenario

The 6 Common Mistakes Doctors Make When Treating Older Patients -- and How to Prevent Them


National Coalition on Health Care May 14, 2008

Institute of Medicine: Insuring America's Health

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