Currently, the United States is the only wealthy, industrialized nation which does not guarantee its citizens’ universal healthcare coverage. On a per-capita basis, healthcare expenses of the U.S. are twice as high than any other industrialized nation, yet the U.S. has infant mortality rates and life expectancies below the rest. Universal healthcare coverage refers to: no citizen being denied healthcare coverage based on any factor other than citizenship, regardless of the service or treatment; every citizen in a specified region has health coverage. This is different than a single-payer system, which is means there is one entity (normally the state or federal government) which pays for all healthcare claims. It’s important to note, that ‘Obama’-care is not universal healthcare.
Currently, the U.S. model is based on thousands of distinct private insurance companies paying some patient claims whereas, the government pays for some other patient claims (medicare/medicaid). This complex and confusing system can be exploited by drug companies, medical equipment manufacturers, and private insurance companies. On average, healthcare costs make up 1/6 of the total economy annually, exceedingly higher than any other country on the planet. This isn’t because citizens see the doctor more, Americans actually go to the hospital less than many other countries such as Canada. The reason is the per-unit cost, which is astronomically higher than other countries – from prescription drugs to x-rays, the per-unit cost is marginally higher (e.g. the exact same heartburn medication costs $215 here and $23 in the Netherlands).
In addition, doctors in the U.S. work on a fee-for-service system similar to a business model, instead of getting paid for providing good healthcare they are paid by how much healthcare they provide, which gives them more incentive to prescribe drugs, order tests, recommend surgery, etc leading to increased costs to the patients.
In addition, the insurance companies have small profit margins, healthcare in the U.S. is dangerous (hospitals are the third leading cause of death in the U.S.), and $765 billion annually is spent on healthcare that does not improve health. The history behind why the U.S. is the only developed country with a employer-based healthcare system based is due to post-WWII tax provisions . To read about the international perspective on our see.
The campaign for some form of universal or single-payer healthcare within the U.S. has been going on for over 100 years, nearly as long as many other countries (32 or 38 ‘developed’ countries have universal healthcare, Norway being the oldest to go to a single-payer health care system in 1912). The current system is being constrained by two primary factors: the escalating costs of healthcare and the restricted access to care. It’s time to overhaul this dysfunctional system so that citizens may receive the basic human right of a healthy life. Here is why single-payer healthcare may be the direction are are heading already.