17 Universal Health Care Pros and Cons

Universal health care is the idea that everyone within a country should have access to medical services without fear of cost. The issue that many people have with this type of service is that 85% of medical care costs are designated for chronic care services, such as diabetes management.

In the developed world, the United States is the only country which does not provide a complete universal health care access system. Some people do qualify for the Medicare or Medicaid system because of their age, household income, or personal circumstances and experience a type of universal care. Not everyone qualifies at all times for this medical access.

There are several universal health care pros and cons worth considering when looking at this system versus a free-market approach. It is true that providing health care comes at a great expense. It is also true that families bear the burden of that expense, either through taxation or private payments, and not the government.

List of the Pros of Universal Health Care

1. It lowers the costs of health care for the economy.
When a system of universal health care is in place, the government is able to leverage the size of the medical market to negotiate better pricing structures. That lowers the cost of care because services and medication tend to be lower. Although doctors and pharmaceutical agencies may receive less compensation per service or item, health care spending, as a portion of the GDP, goes down.

2. It reduces administrative costs for care access.
Within a private-pay system, health insurers have administrative costs which are built into the expenditures required of patients for care access. Medical practitioners have higher administrative costs as well. When a universal system of health care is in place, the administrative requirements become simplified. Instead of dealing with multiple agencies, there is only one agency to bill.

3. It simplifies the rules process.
In the United States, an insurance company may stipulate that they approve of services before they are given to a patient. That means if a doctor thinks an MRI may be needed to diagnose a medical issue, the insurance company must first approve of the service. If the MRI is given without their consent, then they may be able to place the cost of the service on the patient, even if the service is covered under the insurance policy.

4. It removes the competition.
The U.S. health care system targets the wealthy. The system of care offers services that are expensive, which allows them to pay doctors more. They funnel money into research and development to create new services to offer, then price it outside of the spectrum of the average person. The goal of any for-profit business is to make money. If health care is put into a for-profit system, then patient care focuses more on those who can pay and less on those who cannot.

5. It creates a workforce that is healthier.
In the United States, 46% of patients went to the emergency room for medical services because that was the only place they could afford to go before the Affordable Care Act was implemented. That is because an emergency room is obligated by law to care for people, whether they can afford to pay or not. With universal health care, there is a greater emphasis placed on preventative care. When people can be proactive about their health, the need for emergency interventions decreases.

6. It helps children.
When children are able to get the care they require for good health, it builds a foundation for future success. Children who have access to health education and care resources are less likely to get involved with crime, take advantage of welfare programs, or deal with chronic health issues as an adult.

List of the Cons of Universal Health Care

1. It requires people to pay for services they do not receive.
In the United States, about 5% of people consume about 50% of the health care costs which are generated each year. On the other end of the spectrum, the healthiest 50% of the population consumes just 3% of the health care costs in the country. In a system of universal health care, those who are healthy and wealthy are asked to care for those who are poor and sick. That can be difficult to accept since most chronic diseases can be prevented with simple lifestyle modifications.

2. It may stop people from being careful about their health.
When a system of universal health care is present, the general population may not treat their health as wisely as they would if the direct costs of their choices were their personal responsibility. There is no financial incentive for someone to stay healthy in such a system. That means people might schedule an appointment for any reason at all or not take care of themselves as they probably should.

3. It may limit the accuracy of patient care.
Doctors make a lot of money in a free-market system of health care when they are able to provide needed services to patients who require them. Within a system of universal health care, doctors are often assigned more patients than they can legitimately handle. They rush through the interview and diagnostic process, looking for the most likely explanation of bothersome symptoms instead of offering a thorough exam. In some ways, the costs of universal care could be higher on a personal level than they are in other systems.

4. It may have long wait times.
For elective procedures within a universal health care system, the wait times can be extremely long. Some elective procedures may require 9-12 months of waiting before they can be scheduled. In Canada, the wait times to see a specialist can even be long for some patients, with some people waiting almost 40 weeks to see someone for a health concern. That is because the primary goal of a universal system of care is to provide basic care and emergency care only.

5. It limits the payouts which doctors receive.
Even in the limited universal care options that are available in the U.S., doctors receive a limited compensation amount. That keeps costs for care lower for the patient. It is also a reason why quality services are not always provided. Doctors have their own costs to consider, so they may spend less time with their patients to improve their billable hours or reduce their own personal costs of providing care.

6. It can limit new technologies.
Because there is such a drive to keep costs down, innovation can fall behind in a universal system of health care compare to a free-market system. That is because there is less funding available to research new technologies within the field. Over time, the lack of funding in research and development could actually cost more lives than are saved by the expanded access to care.

7. It requires significant budgeting skills.
In Canada, the costs of health care can be as much as 40% of the government’s annual budget at the provincial level. Without strong management skills, the high costs associated with providing universal care can quickly overrun the budget, which reduces services in other areas. That often puts infrastructure and education funding at risk if health care costs are higher than anticipated.

8. It may limit services.
As another cost-savings measure, a system of universal care may restrict access to certain procedures or medications if the chances of patient success are minimal. These systems might choose palliative care over life-saving measures. They might choose to require patients with rare conditions to privately pay for expensive medications. About 25% of the costs found in the Medicare budget each year are directed toward people in the last 6 years of their life. One easy way to save money would be to limit the care that group of people receives.

9. It may offer multiple systems of coverage, which increase patient costs.
Most countries still try to keep competition in the field of medicine, so they introduce various structures to complement their system of universal care. There may be pre-pay options, private insurance models, supplemental insurance plans, or expanded choice opportunities available. If families are stuck paying taxes on basic health and emergency care, then pay a private insurer for specialist or elective procedures, they may find themselves paying more for their health care than in a standard free-market setup.

The pros and cons of universal health care come down to this: there are 33 developed countries in the world today and 32 of them offer a full system of universal health care. The United States offers a partial system instead, along with a system of socialized medicine provided to the armed forces. Since 1948, the United Nations has declared health care a basic human right. Does a system of private care make that right accessible to all?

Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.