The Differences of Universal Healthcare and Socialized Medicine

No. Period. It is not.

While healthcare reform has taken quite the back seat to the economy during this presidential election, one thing is clear. Both candidates believe in the importance of expanding access to healthcare.

What I hear from Joe the Plumber, Joe Sixpack and others (by the way -- in this land of equal opportunity, where is Josephine? ... but I digress...) is that they don't like the idea of universal healthcare because that's socialized medicine.

Is it? and if it is -- is that all bad?

There are three terms that get mixed up by most of those who have only a cursory understanding of healthcare reform. And in America, we get more mixed up than anywhere else in the world. So here's some clarification:

Universal healthcare simply means that everyone has coverage to pay for access to healthcare. It does NOT mean that only the government pays for that access. In fact, most of the countries around the world that have universal healthcare use a combination of public and private coverage. Further, in most cases, the providers and facilities are mostly privately own services. Some experts will tell you that universal healthcare already exists, to an extent, in the United States today.

Contrast universal care with a single payer system, also called national healthcare, which does mean everyone gets coverage and the government pays for access. Like with universal healthcare, even though the government pays for coverage, providers and facilities are mostly private services, certainly not owned by the government, although some healthcare services are government run.

(Like the VA, Tricare, and some HMOs.)

Socialized medicine in its strictest sense is a single payer, government run and delivered system. In a socialized medicine model, the government would provide all services from your doctors and providers, to the hospitals and other facilities, to all payment for those services.

Some looser translations of socialized medicine allow for private providers and facilities, but that is not the usual.

Of course, we Americans shudder at the thought of anything socialized.... so that term gets thrown out simply to throw us off. It's mostly being used by health insurance companies that want you to keep lining their pockets and increasing their profitability.

So the REAL answer to this question is NO. Universal healthcare and socialized medicine are not the same thing. Use of the term "socialized" is simply a scare tactic.

Why is this important to you? As you study the presidential and congressional candidates for the upcoming election, and certainly if you get in discussions about healthcare with friends or co-workers, you'll want to be sure they don't throw out the socialized label when it really just does not apply.

There are many important questions about payment and coverage in healthcare reform. Don't let that label be a smokescreen.
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