The concept of socialized medicine means that the government provides all aspects of healthcare:
- It pays for all care.
- It employs the providers.
- It runs the facilities.
In many countries across the world -- including Canada, Great Britain, Finland and Spain -- socialized medicine is the main form of healthcare access for many of its citizens.
Extended definitions of socialized medicine remove one or two of the aspects listed above. For example, the government's role might be to pay for care, but not employ the providers or run the facilities.
In the United States, during discussions of healthcare reform, some people use the term "socialized medicine" to scare away those who think part of the reform solution is to turn to the government. They cite too much government involvement in the process and try to compare it to communism, capitalizing on the disdain for socialism and communism in the American culture.
The truth is, the United States already employs several forms of socialized medicine. The Veteran's Administration healthcare system is one example; veterans can take advantage of the healthcare offered by the system, as long as they see only VA doctors in VA facilities.
Even HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) are socialized, although not always by the government. If a patient participates in an HMO, then the HMO tells them which doctors they can see and which facilities they must access for care. This is true for private HMOs, such as the Kaiser system in California. It's also true for Tricare, which is a U.S. government healthcare organization used by military families and retired military.
As you study the options for healthcare reform, understanding exactly what socialized medicine is -- and knowing the differences between socialized medicine, a single-payer (only) system and universal healthcare -- will help you understand things more clearly.