Should Governments Provide a Universal Healthcare System?
Universal health care is the provision of medical services by governments that are usually either free or subsidised. Many countries around the world provide this type of service to their citizens including the UK, Canada, Spain and most Nordic countries. The UK’s National Health System, for instance, was founded over 60 years ago with the promise of caring for the British people ‘From Cradle to Grave’ (Adds 1998). Europe has some of the world’s best hospitals and has made great progress in medical research, but the concept of universal healthcare is often debated.
It is an important issue to consider because there are many differing opinions about how healthcare can be funded to make it fair, effective and accessible. Many believe that a free healthcare system is unfair and that people should take responsibility for their own wellbeing. However. This essay argues that governments should provide a universal healthcare system by considering two main points: equality and the cost of healthcare, and patient behaviour and preventative healthcare. Findings show that universal healthcare is an equitable and long-term solution.
An initial area of discussion relates to equality and the funding of national healthcare. Many argue that universal healthcare is never free it is funded through taxation. Young (2010) contends, “Providing free healthcare through taxation is unfair to those who are healthy and have little use for medical care”. Another common objection to free healthcare is that many people have enough money to pay for their own medical expenses or to purchase private health insurance “Medical insurance removes the burden of responsibility for healthcare from the government to the individual” (Sam 2003).
These arguments; however, fail to consider the true cost of healthcare. Many people, especially those in low-income jobs, or the elderly cannot afford the cost of private insurance. Surely it is unfair that healthcare is only available to those on higher wages? For instance, even if people do purchase medical insurance it may not cover all their medical costs, especially if they contract a serious illness such as cancer and thus lose their job.
A report by the NHS in 2008 found that 98% of insurance companies would not cover the medical costs of long-term treatment such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy, or provide care for non-physical conditions such as depression. Furthermore, despite opposition, it is clear that taxation is the fairest means of providing healthcare funding as people pay on a means-tested basis, depending on their income. The wealthy, for instance, will pay a higher percentage towards healthcare whilst the non-working citizens such as the elderly, disabled or children are subsidised. As Gatts (2003) shows: “In Sweden high taxation is supported when the benefits of social care are evident”.
This evidence clearly demonstrations how universal healthcare can provide equal among all citizens. Another important area of debate details patient behaviour and preventative healthcare. Some proponents assert that free healthcare will lead to chaotic and inappropriate patient behaviour. Doyle (2006) claims that patients will overuse medical services and cites examples of people asking for an ambulance for minor illnesses such as a cold or sprain. It is also argued that this overuse of services will lead to long waiting times and delayed treatment.
For example in 2009 cancer researchers said that 15,000 people over age 75 were dying prematurely from cancer every year “Experts said those deaths could have been avoided if those patients had been diagnosed and treated earlier” (USA Today 2009). Nevertheless, it also needs to be remembered that free healthcare will encourage patients to visit the doctor early before their illness becomes too serious to treat. The opponents of free healthcare have overlooked the fact that if people are too afraid to ask for help due to the costs, it will ultimately become more expensive when they finally do receive treatment.
Gatts (2003) supports this suggestion explaining that in Sweden preventative care has saved thousands from heart disease over the last two decades. Furthermore when healthcare is provided free of charge medical services will have enough funding to provide education and raise public awareness of healthy lifestyles. A private medical insurer would most likely not invest in the prevention of sickness, whereas a free health system will encourage the public to maintain their well-being: “Superhealth is an NHS scheme aimed at raising awareness of healthy eating and avoiding obesity” (Marin 2010).
A government healthcare scheme will undoubtedly be more focused on prevention rather than cure. These points confirm that free healthcare is a long-term solution to a country’s medical needs. In conclusion, the essay reviewed the areas of equality and cost, and patient behaviour and preventative healthcare to consider if medical services should be provided at no cost.
Discussion found that in spite of some objections related to fairness of the taxation system and overuse of national health services, overall a universal healthcare system is the best solution. Free healthcare provides equal care for all people no matter what their circumstances, and it allows health providers to focus on prevention of sickness and education. It is important to remember that life is unpredictable and accidents or illness can strike at any time, changing people’s circumstances rapidly.
A comprehensive medical system provides a safety net for citizens. It is recommended that nations provide a universal healthcare system, but also ensure that the public are educated and take responsibility for their own well being so they do not abuse the system or take it for granted. In future it is to be hoped that other countries will follow the lead of some of the European nations and provide a free and accessible healthcare service to all their citizens. After all “Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have. ”