Health: Words from Political Debates

The Story:

The Democratic Party in the US has a crowded field of candidates who want the party’s nomination for the office of President. One of the issues they’ll be debating in the weeks and perhaps months to come is the viability of the largely private and for-profit system of health care and health insurance in the country.

Some of the Words:

Three terms that are sometimes used in a sloppy way as if they are interchangeable should in fact be used in distinct ways in order to give the debates some necessary clarity.

For example, “socialized medicine,” when used strictly, refers to a system in which most of the assets (the hospitals and their equipment especially) involved in caring for the ill or injured are themselves government owned and the professionals involved are government employees. Healthcare in the United Kingdom, for example, is socialized in this sense. Healthcare in Canada is not.

Also, socialized medicine is only one way of providing “single payer” insurance. But that term when used strictly includes a broader range of possibilities, including the Canadian system in which many of the assets are privately owned and he professionals self-employed.

In Pill Form:  

A still broader term is “universal health coverage.” The WHO defines universal health coverage as any system in which “all people and communities can use the … health services they need, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship.” There are a lot of ways to try to achieve that, and some of them involve insurance mandates, as does the Obamacare system in the US.

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