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National Approaches Health Insurance

Financing, Medical Care Resources, The Patient's Experience, The Future Of Health Care

One key feature of a health system is health insurance. Health insurance allows individuals to share the risk of any large costs due to illness, and provides a structure by which individuals are linked with health care services. Although insured individuals often pay fees to obtain medicine or to see a doctor, health insurance pays for a large portion of medical costs.

Typically, health care insurance systems have a combination of public and private components. However, with the exception of a few countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States, most industrialized countries have universal health care for basic health services, funded through the public sector. In a universal system, all citizens or residents, regardless of age, income, or health status, have access to a core set of health care benefits. Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom all have universal health care systems. Individuals can often supplement the health insurance they receive from the government with private insurance for health services not covered by the public system, or to cover large costs. In France, for example, 84.5 percent of the population purchased supplementary insurance from private sources in 1998. Thus, even in countries with universal health care, it is often the case that not all individuals have the same insurance coverage.

Some countries have mixed systems in which a portion of the population has only public insurance, while others have only private insurance. In Germany and the Netherlands, a majority of the population has public health insurance. Participants in the public insurance program are not allowed to purchase private health insurance that covers the core services already covered under the public system. Thus, among this group, everyone has equal basic health care coverage. Only those who have incomes above a cutoff level have the option to purchase their own private health insurance or go without health insurance.

The health insurance system in the United States is one of the most diverse. About two-thirds of nonelderly individuals in the United States obtain health insurance through an employer. Generally, this insurance is paid for by both the employer and the employee and is heavily subsidized by the income tax system. Some individuals who are working but are not offered employer-subsidized health insurance pay the full cost of their private health insurance. There are also individuals who have public health insurance provided for them by the government. Medicaid is a public program that helps some individuals in the United States who have low incomes or who are disabled pay for their health care. Medicare is a program that covers health care costs for most of the elderly population. In 2000, 15.8 percent of the nonelderly population in the United States was without health insurance.

In most countries, elderly persons are covered under the same health insurance program or system as other members of the population. One exception is the United States, where the vast majority of older adults are eligible for the public Medicare program. Another important part of a health care system for the elderly is insurance for long-term care. Long-term care insurance helps pay for nursing home care if, for example, an individual becomes ill or disabled for an extended period of time. In countries such as Sweden and Denmark, coverage of long-term care is included in the country's general health care system. Germany, on the other hand, has a separate public long-term care insurance program that is mandatory for most of the population. Meanwhile, in the United States, private long-term care insurance is optional and limited. Only the poor are provided with long-term care coverage, via Medicaid. Similarly, France provides free long-term care to the poorest elderly adults, but there is no social long-term insurance under the French system.

Additional topics

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