Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Difference Between "Health Care" and "Health Insurance"

David Hogberg of the National Center for Public Policy Research explains that we should not confuse the two. In a recent article in the Washington Times, he writes:
Health care is the products and services used for the prevention, treatment and management of illness. Health insurance, on the other hand, is a way of paying for health care. Specifically, it is an agreement whereby the insurer pays for the health care costs of the insured.

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. As the experience of other nations shows, however, universal health insurance often leads to very restricted access to health care.
He shows how attempts in Canada, Sweden, and the UK to provide "universal coverage" merely led to rationing and waiting lists, to the detriment of patients. He concludes:
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."

As the debate over the future of the U.S. health-care system proceeds, it is important that we -- and especially lawmakers who will craft health policy -- understand the very real difference between health care and health insurance. It is vital we realize universal health insurance is not the same as universal health care. Universal health insurance provided by the government leads to rationing of health care that has adverse impacts on health, including death. Thus, we should be highly skeptical of politicians promising to improve our health care system with universal health insurance.
The whole essay is worth reading.