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J Health Polit Policy Law. 1992 Fall;17(3):439-62.

Financing universal health insurance: taxes, premiums, and the lessons of social insurance.

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  • 1University of California, San Francisco.


In a society with strong antitax sentiment and large government deficits, the enactment of universal health insurance is blocked by an impasse over financing. The two chief mechanisms for funding universal health insurance are taxes and insurance premiums. Taxes and premiums are not distinct entities; rather, a spectrum of financing methods exists with varying tax-like and premium-like features. Premium-like financing tends to be voluntary and earmarked for health care, with coverage contingent upon making payments and payments going to private insurance firms. Tax-like financing, in contrast, tends to be mandatory and not earmarked for health care, with coverage not dependent upon making payments and payments going to governments. Over the past century, most industrialized nations have developed highly popular social insurance programs to cover periods of retirement, disability, unemployment, and payment for medical care. Social insurance constitutes a blend of tax-like and premium-like features, offering lessons that might assist in breaking the current impasse over universal health insurance financing.

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