On more than one occasion, we at InsureBlog have had to admonish visitors (and some unwitting contributors) about health care vs. health insurance. Seems we are not alone in this drum beat.
Politicians and pundits lump the terms "health care" and "health insurance" together as though they are the same thing. For example, Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, recently said, "One in 6 Americans does not have access to health care. And in my home state of Montana, an even greater percentage of people have limited access to health care: 1 in 5 Montanans lack health insurance."
Believing health care and health insurance are the same thing easily leads to some mistaken, if not dangerous, notions. It leads to the beliefs that (1) universal health care and universal health insurance are the same; and (2) that if a nation has universal health insurance, where the government pays for every citizen's health care, that nation will have universal health care, where citizens will have ready access to health care whenever they need it
Clarification. The GOVERNMENT pays for nothing. It is the TAXPAYER who actually opens their wallet.
In 1997, three patients in Northern Ontario, Canada, died while on a waiting list to receive heart surgery. One patient had been waiting more than six months to receive bypass surgery. In Britain, patient Mavis Skeet's cancer surgery was canceled four times, during which time her cancer became inoperable.
Thus the conflict between universal coverage and universal access.
In the U.S. anyone with the ability to pay has access to care. In many cases, you can get treatment without queueing up even if you lack the ability to pay.
In most countries where universal coverage is the standard, it really doesn't matter how much money you have, you still have to wait, and wait, and wait for care.
This sort of rationing can even reach the top tiers of society. Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, for example, had to wait eight months for a hip replacement. As a result, he suffered in great pain and was unable to perform some of his governmental duties. Alice Mahon, a former member of the British Parliament, needs the drug Lucentis to slow her macular degeneration. Because of delays due to the National Health Service not yet having approved Lucentis at the time of her diagnosis, she lost much of the sight in her left eye
This can't be good.
It is important to note, however, that all these people had health insurance -- that is, their governments would pay for their health care. What they did not have was ready access to treatment. As the Canadian Supreme Court said upon ruling a ban on private health care as unconstitutional, "access to a waiting list is not access to health care."