The debate over how best to manage a country's health care system is an ongoing issue in political, medical and economic circles. While some nations opt for a public system funded by taxes, others regulate a private health care industry that operates for profit. In both cases, decisions must balance the need for access to health care with the costs of providing it.
Private health care refers to a system in which the health care industry consists of private corporations. This means that hospitals, medical practices and insurance providers all operate to make a profit and compete with other health care providers. Health insurance is central to private health care, as it allows policyholders to afford their own care since the government does not provide it to a large portion of the general population.
Private health care uses the basic economic principles of supply and demand and competition to regulate itself in the open market. No single health insurance provider or hospital can charge too much for its services since consumers have choice and can choose to seek care or insurance elsewhere. In addition, private health care removes the burden of paying for health care from the government, avoiding the cost and bureaucracy of a federally run system.
Private health care is too expensive for millions of Americans. As a result, around 45 million Americans lack health insurance and access to affordable care, according to the website Balanced Politics. The University of California notes that health care costs can rise rapidly, leaving patients with little choice but to go into debt to pay for care they can't afford or discontinue treatment. Private health care encourages a focus on policies and treatments that are profitable in the short term rather than those that contribute most to the public health in the long term.
The major alternative to a private health care system is a public system in which the government makes free health care available to all of its citizens. Governments throughout much of the world, including most industrialised nations in Europe, offer some form of public health care. These systems receive extensive funding from the federal government and ensure than no citizens are left uninsured.
Under a private health care system, the government may still provide health insurance or fund care for some citizens. This is the case in the United States where the private health care business is a major industry but government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid provide low-cost or free care to elderly and low-income consumers, respectively. At the same time, countries with public health care may still allow private health care providers to operate to serve consumers willing to pay more for faster access to more thorough services and treatment.