"Universal health care" is a term typically used to describe health services that are directly paid for or subsidized by a government. In most cases, only citizens of the government paying for the services are eligible to receive benefits. Since World War II, most nations around the world have adopted some form of health services for their citizenry. Some countries continue to debate the pros and cons of universal health care in their legislative bodies. While these systems have the advantage of providing at least a basic level of health services to all citizens — including those who otherwise would not be able to afford it — some users of such systems complain of long waits for certain procedures, and these programs can be expensive for governments with limited budgets.
There are several pros and cons of universal health care as it is applied in the modern world. In many developing nations, citizens would be unable to afford health services if they were not provided by the government. Citizens of more developed countries still may have difficulty paying for expensive medical tests and procedures. While private insurance and employer-supplied insurance can mitigate many of these costs, people who are unemployment or who have pre-existing, chronic medical conditions may find it difficult to gain access to health care or pay for expensive treatments. Universal health care helps spread the risk of healthcare costs among the entire population.
Universal health care helps to promote the overall health of a society by providing free treatment for infectious diseases that otherwise could spread unchecked through a population. Diseases such as tuberculosis can become epidemic and create a public health crisis if left untreated. Universal health care also can help keep sexually transmitted diseases under control, because these illnesses often are spread by sex workers who don't have access to traditional health insurance.
The cost of care is being covered by the government, so citizens still are paying for services indirectly in the form of taxes. When it comes to the pros and cons of universal health care, this is one of the bigger factors. In countries with progressive taxation systems, citizens with higher incomes may complain that they are being forced to subsidize the care of lower-income citizens. Some political groups also argue that universal care allows citizens to seek care for minor ailments that may not truly require the services of a doctor.
Another argument against universal health care is that it removes any free market incentives that might work to help keep health costs lower. Patients are not paying directly out of their pocket, so they have no motivation to negotiate for lower prices or refuse treatments that seem too expensive. As a result, the government often is forced to institute price controls or other regulations to help keep costs down. These factors continue to fuel debate over the pros and cons of universal health care in the United States and other nations as health care costs continue to rise in many areas.