Social Values and the Health System

There are as many health systems and models as there are countries. This is because healthcare is a public good and, thus, reflects the social and cultural values of the societies that design and adopt them.

I. Social and Cultural Values

We should distinguish social and cultural values from economic and operational values. Efficiency, for instance, is an economic-operational value, not a social-cultural one. Equity (though often considered an economic criterion) is actually a normative social-cultural value whose pursuit often comes at a steep economic price and is non-efficient. Health systems can be categorized according to which class of values they emphasize: the American (US) health system is geared to satisfy economic-operational requirements while European health systems place a premium on social-cultural ones.

In this paper, I deal with three social-cultural constraints: solidarityequity (vs. inequity), and progressivity (vs. regressivity), including the issue of redistribution. There are many other social-cultural values that I do not cover in here: fairness, dignity, and choice come to mind. Finally, I provide a discussion of the concept of “public good” in current literature.

II. Social Solidarity

Social solidarity is both vertical and horizontal and both contemporaneous and inter-generational.

Members of the same society ought to strive to share the burdens of the sick, the young, the poor, the weak, and the disenfranchised. This is usually done by transferring economic resources among population groups and by promoting fairness. At the same time, people should feel morally obliged to provide aid and succor to their peers and relatives, neighbors and colleagues, compatriots and friends by encouraging social cohesion and sharing of responsibilities (for instance, within the nuclear or extended family).

Such attitudes cut also across generations, so that the current generation is held answerable to future generations for their well-being and the reasonable fulfillment of their needs. This “solidarity across time” is at the foundation of most modern pension systems, for instance.

Some health systems are explicitly founded on social solidarity, others only implicitly so. However, there are health systems which partly or altogether eschew social solidarity as a defining principle and a determinant.

Health systems of the first type are usually universal, uniform, and comprehensive. They rely on tax revenues or a social insurance scheme or on a combination of both. Health systems of the second type depend on private insurance, are not universal, and are more diverse in the types of medical coverage offered (albeit this diversity comes with increased transaction costs).

Introducing means-testing (asking the rich to pay additional or higher user-fees, co-insurance, deductibles, or participation) does not affect social solidarity. On the contrary, taxing the rich to pay for the poor is the very essence of a solidary state. Similarly, introducing safety nets (such as voucher systems) is a solidary act. Whether such an approach is ideal, from the economic point of view is outside the scope of this paper. health and safety awareness course

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