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The complete guide to universal healthcare

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how people view healthcare, and prompted expats to evaluate the healthcare system in their country of residence. Does the country offer universal healthcare? And more importantly, is the healthcare system robust and efficient? These are just some of the questions that expats are considering when deciding which county to move to and/or live in.

While there are many different types of healthcare systems, many people tend to point to universal healthcare systems as one of the best healthcare systems in the world. So much so that this Pacific Prime article will define universal healthcare, list out the countries that have universal healthcare, as well as summarize the advantages and disadvantages of universal healthcare. What’s more, it will look into whether expats should secure private health insurance.

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What is universal healthcare?

While ‘countries with free healthcare’ and ‘countries with universal healthcare’ are often used interchangeably, it’s important to clarify that they are not quite the same thing. The former means that all citizens and/or residents receive healthcare at no cost or at a very minimal cost. On the other hand, the latter simply means that at least 90% of the citizens and/or residents receive healthcare.

Essentially, universal healthcare is a type of healthcare system that provides affordable (often, but not always free) and accessible healthcare services to almost all of its citizens and/or residents. That being said, countries with universal healthcare may have variations in how the healthcare system is organized and how healthcare services are delivered. One example is how the system is funded, as outlined by the different funding models below.

Single-payer model

Single-payer models are characterized by taxation-funded healthcare. In this system, the healthcare services are mostly owned by the state, and the government uses taxes to fund healthcare services. Everyone has access to the same quality of healthcare regardless of how much taxes they pay. The UK’s National Health System (NHS) follows this model. Other countries include Spain and New Zealand.

Social health insurance model

Social health insurance model requires everyone to buy private health insurance – typically through their employer. While they may rely on private healthcare providers, tight regulation means that the government has influence on both the health insurer’s and private healthcare provider’s prices. Germany developed this model, but other countries like France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, and Switzerland also use it.

National health insurance

National health insurance model has elements of both the single-payer model and social health insurance model. It uses private healthcare providers, but payments are made into a state-run health insurance program that everyone pays into. The administrative costs are also lower as there is only one insurance company, and the government has a lot of control over healthcare costs.

Which countries offer universal healthcare?

Now that you have a clearer idea of what universal healthcare is, you may be wondering: “How many countries have free healthcare or universal healthcare?” According to the Department of Health in New York in the United States, 32 countries offer universal healthcare. This simply means that the goal of these countries is to make healthcare affordable and accessible for everyone. As alluded to previously, variations do exist.

Note: For an in-depth understanding of how the country’s healthcare and/or health insurance system works, you can explore Pacific Prime’s country page.

Here are the countries with universal healthcare:

  1. Australia
  2. Austria 
  3. Bahrain
  4. Belgium
  5. Brunei
  6. Canada
  7. Cyprus
  8. Denmark
  9. Finland
  10. France
  11. Germany
  12. Greece
  13. Hong Kong
  14. Iceland
  15. Ireland
  16. Israel
  17. Italy
  18. Japan
  19. Kuwait
  20. Luxembourg
  21. Netherlands
  22. New Zealand 
  23. Norway
  24. Portugal
  25. Singapore
  26. Slovenia 
  27. South Korea
  28. Spain
  29. Sweden
  30. Switzerland
  31. United Arab Emirates
  32. United Kingdom 

Is universal healthcare a good idea?

Based on the aforementioned list, countries with universal healthcare tend to be countries with higher gross domestic product (GDP). This is because the cost of providing healthcare for everyone is quite high, and the financial burden typically falls on the government. So, is offering universal healthcare a good idea? Here, we will examine some of the arguments for and against universal healthcare.

Advantages of universal healthcare

  • Lowers overall healthcare costs, as the government has high control over prices.
  • Lowers administrative costs, as healthcare providers only have to deal with one government agency.
  • Standardized services across hospitals at an affordable cost, as profit isn’t the main motive.
  • Reduces emergency care costs, as people seek health services before the problem becomes major.
  • Creates a healthier society, as everyone has access to healthcare and health education. This can prevent social issues like crime and welfare dependency.

Disadvantage of universal healthcare

  • Some people may find the system rather unfair, as healthy people are paying for other people’s healthcare.
  • Gives people less financial incentive to stay healthy, which may increase health issues in society.
  • Overuse of healthcare services may occur, as people aren’t expected to pay out of pocket. This results in long wait times.
  • Government may implement cost-cutting measures, which leads to reduced availability of care. 
  • Takes up a significant portion of government budgets which could have been used for other areas.

Should expats secure private health insurance?

Do you live in a country with universal healthcare? If not, then it’s a no brainer: you should consider securing private health insurance so that you can access healthcare without having to pay expensive hospital bills out of pocket. But even those who live in a country with universal healthcare stand to benefit from private health insurance. Expats and globetrotters in particular should consider getting international health insurance as this is compatible with their lifestyles.

Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether or not you should get international health insurance:

  • Do you find the healthcare system in your country of residence to be inadequate? Perhaps there are long wait times or a lack of the latest medical equipment. If you’d like to access superior healthcare either in your country’s private healthcare sector or even abroad, then an international health insurance plan will cover you.
  • Do you plan to move to another country in the near future? That country may not offer universal healthcare. Securing international health insurance earlier on ensures you enroll on a plan before you get any pre-existing conditions. What’s more, you can also stay on the same plan no matter where you move to.
  • Do you travel often? International health insurance can be superior to travel insurance. While the former will cover you no matter where you are, the latter will often focus on bringing you back home first, after which the cost of treatment is no longer the insurer’s responsibility.

Get free advice from Pacific Prime today!

Securing a health insurance plan has never been easier! As a health insurance broker, with over two decades of experience, Pacific Prime has got highly-trained advisors on hand to answer your questions, provide a tailored plan comparison, and help you find the best plan for your needs and budget. Whether you’re looking for international health insurance or any other health insurance plan, we’ve got something for you.

Not quite ready to secure health insurance yet? That’s alright – you can still have a word with our advisors. It’s free of charge, and there’s no obligation to secure a plan. Alternatively, you can head to the Pacific Prime blog for all things health insurance or check out our resource page for in-depth reports and guides. Our latest Cost of International Health Insurance Report 2020-2021 looks at average premiums in 100 locations and the key drivers shaping them.

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Content Creator at Pacific Prime
Suphanida aims to demystify the world of insurance by creating informative and engaging content. As a wordsmith, she spends the majority of her day writing and editing website content, blog posts, in-depth guides, and more.

Outside of work, Suphanida enjoys traveling to new places and immersing herself in different cultures.