What is the Difference Between Single Payer Healthcare and Universal Healthcare?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2019
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Terms like “single payer healthcare” and “universal healthcare” are often thrown around, especially in an election year. Some people are under the impression that these terms are synonymous, but there is a distinct difference between single payer healthcare and universal healthcare that is very important to understand. While both systems typically are aimed at making health coverage more accessible for people, they work in slightly different ways.

Single payer healthcare is a healthcare system administered from a central fund. A classic example is the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom. The NHS is administered by the British government, and it was founded in the wake of the Second World War. Under this system, when patients receive medical treatment, the government pays for it, using funds collected through taxation and other tools. Some people refer to single payer healthcare as socialized medicine, in a reference to the fact that it is typically administered by a government.

Universal healthcare is health coverage for everyone. In some cases, a healthcare system is both single payer and universal; the NHS, for example, covers all British citizens. In other instances, a universal healthcare system uses a variety of sources to provide coverage, combining government funds, private insurance companies, and so forth to make sure that no citizens fall through the gaps. This is a key difference between the two types of healthcare systems, with some people arguing that the use of a variety of sources of funding is not efficient.


It is also possible for a healthcare system to be single payer, but not universal. The American Medicare system, which covers seniors, is an example of this type of single payer system. In this case, when senior citizens receive treatment, the government pays for it with Medicare funds. In order to be eligible for inclusion in this single payer system, seniors must also meet several criteria.

Understanding the difference between single payer healthcare and universal healthcare can allow people to be more informed in discussions about healthcare. In the United States especially, the difference between the two has been a major sticking point in many political campaigns, with people suggesting various blends of these systems to meet the healthcare needs of the American people.

Most first world countries have a universal healthcare system to ensure that all of their citizens are covered. Some of these systems are also single payer, with many healthcare reformers looking to single payer universal systems as a model, arguing that they are the most efficient and cost effective. When looking at any proposed healthcare plan for a particular region of the world, people may want to keep the difference between single payer and universal systems in mind.


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Post 2

amen sister

Post 1

Can someone explain what the President means by Universal Healthcare??

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