Socialized medicine is, by definition, a healthcare system in which the government owns and operates healthcare facilities and employs the healthcare professionals, thus also paying for all healthcare services.
How does socialized medicine differ from universal coverage and single-payer health care?
Socialized medicine is often conflated with single-payer health care and universal health care, but those are different concepts. Although universal coverage and single-payer health care are common around the world, truly socialized medicine for a country’s entire population is actually quite rare. The British National Health Service is an example, as the UK funds health care with tax revenue and also employs the country’s medical providers (people can opt-out of the NHS and obtain medical care privately, but this is rare).
Within the U.S., the Veterans Health Administration is an example of socialized medicine, although it only covers a small fraction of Americans.
Universal coverage or universal health care simply refers to a system in which everyone has access to health coverage and/or affordable medical care. This can be provided via socialized medicine, but a more common approach is a mix of public and private coverage and care.
Single-payer health care refers to a system in which the government pays for medical care for its citizens. That care can be provided at government-run medical facilities (as is the case in Britain’s NHS), but it’s more commonly provided at private medical facilities.
Note that although the U.S. does not have universal health care, single-payer health care, or socialized medicine, the American Medicare system is a single-payer program run by the federal government, which covers more than 63 million people. But Medicare is not socialized medicine because the doctors and hospitals are privately operated – the government pays them, but does not own or employ them. Medicaid is another public coverage program in the U.S., covering more than 81 million people, but it’s technically not a single-payer system as it’s funded jointly by the federal and state governments. And like Medicare, Medicaid is not socialized medicine because most of the medical providers are privately employed.
According to World Population Review data, there are 17 countries around the world that have single-payer health care. But far more countries — 117 as of 2021 — have universal health care. Most of them achieve it with a mix of public and private coverage and medical facilities, meaning that while their systems provide universal health care, they do not use socialized medicine or a single-payer approach.