In the absence of a reasonably well-organized system of public healthcare for all, many people are afflicted by overpriced and inefficient private healthcare. As has been analyzed by many economists, most notably Kenneth Arrow, there cannot be a well-informed competitive market equilibrium in the field of medical attention, because of what economists call “asymmetric information”.
Patients do not typically know what treatment they need for their ailments, or what medicine would work, or even what exactly the doctor is giving to them as a remedy. Unlike in the market for many commodities, such as shirts or umbrellas, the buyer of medical treatment knows far less than what the seller – the doctor – does, and this vitiates the efficiency of market competition.
This applies to the market for health insurance as well, since insurance companies cannot fully know what patients’ health conditions are. This makes markets for private health insurance inescapably inefficient, even in terms of the narrow logic of market allocation.
And there is, in addition, the much bigger problem that private insurance companies, if unrestrained by regulations, have a strong financial interest in excluding patients who are taken to be “high-risk”. So one way or another, the government has to play an active part in making UHC work.
The United Kingdom National Audit Office in 2003 published an international comparison of ten different health care systems in ten developed countries, nine universal systems against one non-universal system (the United States), and their relative costs and key health outcomes.
A wider international comparison of 16 countries, each with universal health care, was published by the World Health Organization in 2004. In some cases, government involvement also includes directly managing the health care system, but many countries use mixed public-private systems to deliver universal health care.
Whatever you may think about how we pay for health care, everyone can agree that staying out of the emergency room is a good thing. Maintaining good health through access to primary care and healthy policies is better not only for individuals, but also for health care’s bottom line.
In private health insurance, premiums are paid directly from employers, associations, individuals and families to insurance companies, which pool risks across their membership base.
Private insurance includes policies sold by commercial for profit firms, non-profit companies, and community health insurers. Generally, private insurance is voluntary, in contrast to social insurance programs, which tend to be compulsory.
Fourth, many diseases are infectious. Universal coverage prevents their spread and cuts costs through better epidemiological care. This point, as applied to individual regions, has been recognized for a very long time.
The conquest of epidemics has, in fact, been achieved by not leaving anyone untreated in regions where the spread of infection is being tackled. The transmission of disease from region to region – and of course from country to country – has broadened the force of this argument in recent years.
Almost all European systems are financed through a mix of public and private contributions. The majority of universal health care systems are funded primarily by tax revenue (e.g. Portugal Spain, Denmark, and Sweden). Some nations, such as Germany, France and Japan employ a multi-payer system in which health care is funded by private and public contributions.
However, much of the non-government funding is by contributions by employers and employees to regulated non-profit sickness funds. These contributions are compulsory and defined according to law.
58 countries with universal health care in 2009, according to Stuckler, et al. 58 countries with legislation mandating Universal Health Care, along with >90% health insurance coverage and >90% skilled birth attendance.
In some countries with universal coverage, private insurance often excludes many health conditions which are expensive and which the state health care system can provide. For example, in the United Kingdom, one of the largest private health care providers is BUPA, which has a long list of general exclusions even in its highest coverage policy, most of which are routinely provided by the National Health Service.