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What is Single Payer Health Care?

By Neetal Parekh on August 12, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As healthcare reform captures a top spot in daily headlines these days, we want to get back to the basics and learn about a term that is being tossed around like a tennis ball lately...single payer health care.  What is it all about?  Read below for the 411.

Single payer insurance refers to a government-run healthcare system that is nearly universal.  Examples of existing single-payer health care include nationalized programs seen in Canada, Australia, Taiwan, and England.  Single payer health care would eliminate private insurance companies and institute a Medicare-esque system in which the government foots all healthcare bills.

The reason you may have heard this term in water-cooler conversations lately is because President Obama's stance on his support of single payer health care seems to have waffled a bit.  A 2003 video of then-Senator Obama addressing the AFL-CIO has been making the rounds online.  In it, he says "I happen to be a proponent of single-payer, universal health care plans."

Single payer health care is not to be mistaken--okay, maybe a little mistaken--with the healthcare plan President Obama is trying to advance through the Senate.  That plan distinguishes itself from single-payer and calls itself a public option program, but does include the single payer health care feature of creating a government-run health insurance plan, like Medicare, as an alternative to private heath insurance plans.

What's the beef with single payer health care? Opponents criticize it as a form of socialism and fear that it eliminates the element of choice in selecting private health plans.

That's single payer health care in a nutshell.  So, what's public option healthcare....stay tuned for the 411 on that coming up.

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