Public vs. Private Health Insurance

••• Image by, courtesy of Hamed Saber

Private health insurance, the dominant health care insurance in the United States, is a system in which customers pay premiums to guarantee that future health costs will be paid, either in part or in full. Public health insurance consists of a range of systems, from single-payer systems to simply a government option. Which method is superior is a contentious issue.

Private Insurance

Private health insurance is a system in which individuals are responsible for securing their own health insurance coverage, although employers in many cases provide all or some of the funding. Private health insurance is the prevalent system in the United States, although programs such Medicare and Medicaid, forms of public health coverage, are commonly used.

Public Option

In a heath care system that has a public option, the government provides its own health insurance, but private insurance companies continue to provide insurance as another option for citizens. This system is not prevalent, and is generally viewed as a middle ground between those supporting private health insurance and those who want health care for all people.


The single-payer health care system is a structure in which the government alone pays for health care services. There are different variations of this system, and often, such as in Canada, coverage such as eye care and dental are not always covered, leaving some patients to pay out of pocket or pursue additional insurance.

Benefits of Private Insurance

Supporters of the system of private insurance say that it encourages freedom of choice for health insurance and provides the best possible quality of care. Proponents of other options point to private insurance's inability to provide for every single person, often leaving people without health care coverage, which can result in avoidance of care and even bankruptcy.

Benefits of the Public Option

The public option is intended to increase competition among health insurance companies and in turn reduce overall health care costs by providing an affordable alternative to private insurance. Those against this idea claim it puts private insurance companies in jeopardy by making them unable to compete with a government entity that does not have to consider a profit motive.

Benefits of the Single-Payer System

The single-payer system is preferred by some because it generally provides health care to everyone regardless of background and economic status. Detractors believe it stifles advances in health care technology and reduces the quality of the health care system as a whole. The single-payer system is used by countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom.