The Coronavirus pandemic provided the nations of the world with a challenge. But it is not a test of public versus private healthcare systems. It is a test of governmental competence.
Notice the two countries with the most enviable trend lines. Singapore's system is mostly private. Hong Kong's system is mostly public. In each case, their governments apparently did something right.
Italy and Spain, both single-payer countries, have unfortunately steep trend lines. This should not be seen as an indictment of single-payer systems. Demographics, population density, GDP and other factors are at play. Neither should it be assumed that those countries' leaders made all the right and timely decisions.
The soaring trend line of the United States suggests that being a former host of a contrived reality TV show and a businessman with a string a bankruptcies is not the best background to handle a crisis.
To be fair, some of the nations that successfully flattened their COVID-19 curve employed rather draconian measures that might prove intolerable to Americans.
Let's look at the healthcare systems of the countries with the two best trend lines.
Singapore's Healthcare System
Does Singapore have free public healthcare? In a word: no. The system is similar to how Medicare works in the US.
Singapore had a free healthcare system until the 1970s, when the government realized the country faced an aging population. Since then, citizens and permanent residents have supported the system via their monthly Medisave contributions, taken automatically from their wages as part of their CPF contributions.
What Are Singaporean's Medisave Contributions?
Employees generally pay 9% of their monthly wage towards Medisave. Unlike with Medicare, Medisave payments come directly out of your paycheck before you receive it.
The money is saved specifically for hospitalization and outpatient costs and automatically pays for a basic health insurance plan. This is to make sure that if you fall ill, most of your costs are already paid for.
Perhaps the biggest complaint held with Singaporean healthcare is that everyone still has to pay for their care, even if they are covered by Medisave. This means extra payments towards health insurance are necessary. Residents who do not earn enough to contribute towards Medisave also have the potential to fall between the cracks of the system, although they can apply to the government for financial assistance with medical costs.
Hong Kong's Healthcare System
Hong Kong has a system of government-operated hospitals, which constitutes the majority of the health care system. People also have the option of a private hospital if they wish.
The healthcare system of Hong Kong runs on a dual-track basis encompassing the public and the private sectors. Public healthcare is the cornerstone of our healthcare system, acting as the safety net for the whole community. Today, the public hospitals provide approximately 90% hospital medical service and 29% outpatient medical service throughout Hong Kong. The public hospital system of Hong Kong provides a comprehensive range of quality services at a very low level of user charges.
The main drawbacks of public hospitals in Hong Kong as similar to those in any other country: expect long queues and occasionally brisk service.