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Socialized Medicine | Breaking Down Government Run Healthcare

Edward Neeman Published: May 14, 2019 Updated: May 14, 2019

American flag in stethoscope

If you want to immediately spark debate and quickly heat up a conversation, all you need to do is utter the words socialized medicine. Today, everyone has an opinion on government-run healthcare, and it’s actually become quite a divisive topic in our country, and for good reason. With so many people affected by the rising costs of medical care in the US, people are looking to explore every avenue to right the boat.

We’re going to deviate from the path just a bit here, and not give our own two cents about the topic. Rather, we’d like to break down what exactly is meant by socialized medicine, and what it would mean for you and your loved ones.

What Is Socialized Medicine?

Under socialized medicine, the government owns and operates the majority of healthcare organizations in the country, pays for employee salaries, and sets up regulations as to how people may access health care. This doesn’t mean private, for-profit clinics don’t continue to operate, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

Countries That Socialized Their Healthcare Systems

Strictly speaking, Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, France, and Singapore are the only countries that have virtually all aspects of medicine controlled by the government, but the majority of countries in the world offer Universal Healthcare through the government.

How It Measures Up To Other Options

If you’re looking to see how socialized medicine compares to other options, you don’t have to look too far. Socialized medicine is sometimes viewed as an umbrella term, and is often conflated with Universal Healthcare and Single-Payer systems. Let’s take a quick look at Canada, and compare it with what is going on in the US.

Without going into too many details (since we will be covering the pros and cons of socialized medicine later on in this article), there’s one number that stands out pretty significantly. Over 85% of Canadians support their public, government-run healthcare system. On the flip side, only about 61% of Americans are “satisfied” with the costs associated with their healthcare per a 2018 Gallup poll.

Aside from approval numbers, which we feel hold a lot of weight, there is another number that jumps out at us, which is spending per capita.

The US spends more on healthcare costs per capita than any other country in the world, and it’s not even close. Canada on the other hand and many other countries who’ve adopted any number of forms of socialized healthcare spend significantly less. If we put that in numbers, see below:

  • US Healthcare Spending Per Capita - $10,224
  • Canada Healthcare Spending Per Capita - $4,826

Now, there are other factors that go into the difference in numbers, such as the incredible amount of health issues facing Americans, but it’s still something we cannot ignore. Although socialized medicine does have it’s trade-offs, which we’ll elaborate more in just a bit. For now, know that you will have to endure long wait times, and in some cases, your care may be denied based on number crunching.

Before getting deeper into the underlying benefits and drawbacks of socialized benefits, let’s take a look at some of the terms that are often used interchangeably.

Socialized Medicine Vs. Universal Healthcare

The majority of the countries in the world have Universal Healthcare, with governments mixing up a combination of directly funded health care, or government paid or supplemented health care insurance. This is the case with the United States, in which the majority of the people get their healthcare paid for by their employer’s, but those who do not, have the opportunity to buy healthcare through a pool of health care insurance providers.

Socialized Medicine Vs. Single-Payer options

Under socialized government medicine, the government controls essentially all of the health care systems, while with a single-payer option, clinics or hospitals retain their private status, but the government ensures that everyone is covered under the health care plan.

The Pros & Cons

The pros of both universal or socialized medicine schemes, as well as Single-Payer health insurance, is that everyone regardless of economic status is covered for health care, and that’s generally good for the country as a whole.

The cons are that time and again, it’s been shown that too much government control, has a detrimental effect on advancements in medicine (ie, new surgery techniques, new drugs, etc,) as the profit incentive is deemphasized.

Further, in medicine as in life, you get what you pay for. People flock to the United States, in droves from other countries, which offer free health care, because they would rather pay to live, rather than die waiting for surgery approval for a procedure.

Possible Benefits

As we alluded to earlier, socialized medicine seems to lower the overall healthcare costs endured by countries. The reasoning is undeniable, which center around removing administrative costs and high salaries of private insurers, along with more people seeking out preventive care. It’s always been known that preventing health issues or catching them early on is less expensive than treating them.

Socialized medicine also provides every individual and family in the US with access to the same quality of care. Currently, in the competitive market that is the US healthcare system, high-quality treatment is only available to those who can afford the high costs that come with it. This line of reasoning is one of the biggest driving factors of the new movement we’ve seen popularized in recent elections.

Building off an earlier point, preventive care actually creates a healthier population, which can trickle down to healthier children as well. A healthier population has been proven to be more productive (as you can imagine) than an unhealthy one. It also creates less reliance on social programs, and can even reduce crime.

Possible Drawbacks

On the other hand, there are many drawbacks to too much governmental interference within the healthcare system. For example, research has shown that it takes on average 10 years and nearly $2.6 billion for a drug company to introduce a new drug, and without the expectation to make a profit, what is the incentive for those drug companies to develop new medicines?

The same goes for innovative surgery techniques like balloon angioplasty, where a surgeon uses a medical balloon to reopen closed heart arteries or laser optic surgery to correct cataracts.

Countries which guarantee healthcare professionals and companies an opportunity to be creative and inventive save lives as well as generate healthy profits. So one has to weigh not only direct access to healthcare but healthcare quality aspects as well.

There are actually some troubling stories from countries that have chosen socialized medicine, which include not giving certain patients access to expensive care that may save their lives. The most recent example was a child named Alfie Evans, who was at the center of a hotly contested debate.

Essentially, Alfie was a patient in the UK. The parents and doctors didn’t see eye to eye on whether or not to keep Alfie on life support, and even let the parents take Alfie to Italy, which had willing doctors ready to do what they could to save his life. Unfortunately, due to a ruling by Justice Hayden, Alfie Evans was denied the right to leave the country for medical attention, and taken off life support.