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What Is Socialized Medicine? Everything You Need To Know

Edward Neeman Published: February 26, 2019 Updated: February 26, 2019

American flag arm holding stethoscope

Socialized medicine has been something of a buzzword in the American political sphere as of late. It is often a divisive topic, with many people taking a strong stance for or against it. However, most people, politicians included, are confused about what the term actually means. So, what exactly is socialized medicine, and more importantly, how does it work?

What Socialized Medicine Means

Socialized medicine is a healthcare system in which the government provides and pays for all aspects of care. Under this system, the government regulates and operates the healthcare facilities and employs the healthcare providers.

How It Works

Socialized medicine is funded by taxes, with taxpayers in countries with this system are often taxed at a higher rate than those in countries without it. In return, they get free, government-provided health services and free, or very low-cost, prescription drugs. The only procedures patients must pay for in this system are elective procedures, such as cosmetic surgery.

Examples Of Socialized Medicine Today

Examples of socialized medicine can be found in most developed nations, but our focus will be fixed on the British National Health Service or NHS, which provides the majority of healthcare in Britain. Many healthcare facilities in Britain are owned and operated by the British government. Under the NHS, all necessary appointments and treatments are provided at no cost to the patient and many prescription drugs are covered at no or low cost.

There’s actually an example of socialized medicine right here in the US, which you are probably familiar with already. The healthcare services provided by the Department of Veteran Affairs, commonly referred to as the VA, is a prime example of what government-run healthcare program would look like. The VA provides US veterans with free or low-cost medical service through government-owned facilities and pharmacies.

Some Of The Most Common Misconceptions

Misconceptions about socialized medicine most commonly involve confusing it with universal healthcare and single-payer systems. Although there are similarities between the three, there are key differences that set them apart, and the terms should not be used interchangeably.

How It Differs From Universal Healthcare

Universal healthcare guarantees access to basic healthcare for all citizens of a particular nation. This is often achieved through a mix of public and private coverage, rather than only government coverage. Usually, the medical facilities and providers in a universal healthcare system are privately owned. This completely differs from a socialized medical system where the government pays for all services, owns the facilities, and employs providers.

How It Differs From Single-Payer Healthcare

With single-payer healthcare, all citizens receive government-funded coverage for any medically necessary services. Although the government provides the coverage, the healthcare facilities and providers remain privately owned. Both single-payer and socialized medical systems are funded by the government, but single-payer differs in that facilities and providers are privately owned.

The Pros And Cons Of Socialized Medicine

There are many benefits to socialized medicine. It makes healthcare more accessible, can lead to better public health, and prevents people from going bankrupt due to medical expenses. However, there are also drawbacks such as long wait times for treatment, higher tax burdens, and the elimination of competition in healthcare.

The Argument For

  • Equity - Proponents of a socialized medical system argue that government-run healthcare is more equitable, as the care a patient receives is not linked to their ability to pay.
  • Saves lives - Socialized medicine would prevent cases of patients delaying or forgoing life-saving treatments due to concerns about cost.
  • Better public health and more productivity - Proponents claim that this system would improve public health which would, in turn, reduce employee sick days and boost productivity in the workplace.
  • Saves money - Another point made by proponents is that a socialized healthcare system saves money and keeps the cost of providing healthcare down as facilities must operate within a set budget.

The Argument Against

  • Long wait times - Opponents of a socialized medicine often point to the long wait times for care experienced by veterans who use the VA as evidence against the system.
  • Rationing of care - There are concerns that, in times of low funding, healthcare will be rationed, leaving many who need care unable to receive it.
  • Elimination of competition - Opponents also argue that if competition in healthcare is eliminated, the quality of care will go down and innovation will become less common.
  • Higher taxes - Socialized medical systems impose a higher tax burden. Many opponents believe it is unfair to force citizens to pay for other’s healthcare.

Does It Work?

Whether or not socialized medicine works is still largely up for debate and depends on your perspective. If you look at Britain’s NHS, it has been rated the safest, most affordable healthcare system in a survey of 11 wealthy countries performed by the Commonwealth Fund. However, it ranked 10th out of 11 countries in the healthcare outcomes category of that same study, which indicates some problems with the system. Like all healthcare systems, there are positive and negative aspects and one must decide whether or not the pros outweigh the cons.